Stockton Gurdwara Celebrates its CentennialKEVIN PARRISH
Stockton, California, USA
Quietly, politely, deferentially, Manjit Singh Uppal said, "This has been my home since 1973. As a little boy, it felt like a playground."
Manjit, 52 and a former gurdwara president, lives in Lodi now. But the Stockton Gurdwara is still home.
The gurdwara, at the far end of South Grant Street, also is home to thousands of Sikhs on the West Coast. For them, it represents an almost-mystical place deserving of a historical pilgrimage, reverence and historical study.
This fall, the Stockton Gurdwara celebrates a century of history, some of it surprising:
» It is the oldest gurdwara in the United States.
» It has a direct link to the Indian independence struggle and was home to the Ghaddar (Revolution) Party, which agitated to free the subcontinent from British occupation for four decades before that status was finally won in 1947. Sikhs describe Stockton as "ground zero" for the subcontinent's independence struggle.
» America's first Punjabi-language newspaper was published by the Ghaddar Party and financed by the Sikh-Americans of Stockton.
» Bhagat Singh Thind, a civil rights pioneer and the first Sikh to serve in the U.S. Army (during World War I), was a member of the Stockton Gurdwara.
» Starting in 1957, Democrat Dalip Singh Saund served three terms in the US House of Representatives. He was the first Asian, South Asian, Indian and Sikh elected to Congress. Before he was elected a US Congressman, he was secretary of the Stockton Gurdwara.
For many, the compound on South Grant - which will be renamed Sikh Temple Street on Jan. 1 - is hallowed ground.
Vancouver, B.C., also has a rich history of Sikh settlement, but - many say - not like Stockton's.
Harinder Kaur Randhawa, a 52-year-old hospital dietitian in Vancouver, was touring the Stockton Gurdwara earlier this week on a visit to the United States.
"This is our gurdwara," she said. "It's very historic. I feel so proud to walk where the first settlers walked.
"I can see here the fruit of their hard work and suffering and sacrifice. This is our heritage."
The Stockton Gurdwara has 5,000 Northern Californians who call it home, even though larger, more elaborate gurdwaras have been built in Yuba City, San Jose, El Sobrante and other California cities.
"There are many reasons," said Bhajan Singh Bhinder, coordinator of the local centennial committee. "The pioneers came here; we had the first settlement; fighting for civil rights in America happened here. The freedom struggle for India began from here. This place is so unique. It deserves the attention it's getting."
Two years ago, organizers started digging more deeply into the gurdwara's past. They discovered journals and ledger books from the early 20th century. College students have spent the summer painstakingly taking photographs of yellow and dog-eared pages written decades ago. They have worked out of a closet-sized room in the gurdwara complex. The original ledger books are kept inside a safe almost as large as the room itself.
"I wanted to help shape the Sikh identity in America," said 19-year-old volunteer Rajan Gill of Yuba City. The University of California, Davis, senior is a cousin of Lodi's Ricky Gill, who at 25 is running as a Republican for California's 9th Congressional District seat.
Sikh-Americans, a proud people, celebrate those kinds of relationships - alongside their 100 years of tolerance and faith in America.
"And this is the place where people come to see that," Bhajan Singh said. "It is more important than ever that Americans go to each other's places of worship and homes and celebrations.
"That's the best way to be a united nation."
Beginning this weekend, the local Sikh-American community is hosting several weeks of activities acknowledging its rich heritage in Stockton.
It started on Saturday with a conference - "The Sikh Journey in America" - inside the Faye Spanos Concert Hall at the University of the Pacific.
It culminates on October 14 with the second day of a two-day grand finale, complete with parade, food, booths and entertainment.
Organizers expect huge crowds from all over Northern California. They've worked hard to commemorate the past on a large scale.
After the academic events are over and the parade crowds have gone home, the Gurdwara and its members will still congregate on the sacred ground that has been theirs for 100 years.
"Only a few have been here longer than I have," Manjit Singh said. "This is it for me. This is where I will die."
Stockton Sikhs are about to begin a three-week centennial celebration.
• Saturday, September 22, 2012: A Western-perspective conference on "The Sikh Journey in America," 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Faye Spanos Concert Hall, University of the Pacific. Sixteen speakers from across the globe.
• Sunday, September 23, 2012: Opening day for an in-progress Sikh History Museum, Gurdwara Sahib, 1930 S. Grant St. The principal artifact is the hand-cranked printing press used by the Ghaddar Party from 1913 to 1948.
• September 30, 2012: An Eastern-perspective conference on "100 Years of Sikhs in America," 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., De Rosa Ballroom, University of the Pacific. Sixteen speakers on topics such as the Ghaddar Party and concepts of freedom.
• October 13-14, 2012: A Community Centennial Celebration, Stockton Gurdwara, 1930 S. Grant St. The first day's program includes local and regional dignitaries, including government officials; the second day involves a traditional Sikh parade.
[Courtesy: RecordNet. Edited for sikhchic.com]
September 24, 2012