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The fading history of Punjabi-Mexicans


The onset of the 1990s saw a generation of working Punjabi men heading to the West in search for a better life in the fertile lands of Southern California’s Imperial Valley.

The gangs of migrant workers of Punjab were often called “Hindu crews”, although they were a mix of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, working effortlessly to earn enough so that their wives and children back home could join them in this land of opportunity.

They soon found themselves stranded in a country which passed a series of legislative Acts resulting in closed doors for foreigners and making travels between India and the US near to impossible.

Following the bloodshed of the Mexican Civil War of 1910, California witnessed the arrival of thousands of widowed Mexican women on its land. The women, along with their children and some possessions saw the opportunity to work in the cotton fields which were majorly supervised by the Indian men during that time.

“The Punjabi men wanted housekeepers, children and sex,” says anthropologist at the University of California, Karen Leonard. But this merging of ethnicities was regarded as “Punjabi bosses ripping the pretty women away.” Angry Latino men fought with their wannabe brothers-in-law and sometimes took women back by force. Moreover, unless the men and women listed their ethnicities as “brown,” the laws forbidding interracial marriage made acquirement of marriage certificates an impossible task.

The Punjabi men appreciated the similar appearances of Mexican brides, with women back home, who cooked similar dishes and were familiar with rural life. Meanwhile, the women saw their social stature rising by marrying men who were, at least, middle class and spoke fluent English. The country recorded at least 378 marriages between Punjabi-Mexican couples in California alone, according to a study of genealogies in Leonard’s book Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans, in the 20th century.

One such example and among the last of the first-generation Punjabi-Mexicans was Mary Singh Rai, a native of Yuba City, California. A daughter of immigrants, the then 89-year old was the result of an unlikely coupling of a Mexican mother and Punjabi father in the Golden State. Her Punjabi-Mexican children had grown up eating chicken curry enchiladas, attending Catholic Mass and making pilgrimages to Sikh gurdwaras.

However, with each passing year, the bigoted sentiment made it difficult for such love to find societal acceptance in that era. The Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924 which made travel between India and the US an implausible task further opened doors for many such rulings with the Supreme Court’s 1923 ruling being one of them, which made Indian men racially ineligible for naturalized citizenship.

The Luce-Celler Act in 1946 ultimately loosened the US immigration laws and ended The California Alien Land Act of 1913, which prohibited most immigrants from owning land. The long-settled immigrants could finally send for their Punjabi sons and daughters residing back home.

At present, the fate of Punjabi-Mexicans dwindles as their present generation can be seen opting out of this culture and marrying out of the caste. Being a part of a legacy of such unlikely marriages which is primarily found and cherished in oral family histories, Mary Singh Rai passed away in 2013.  (Inputs from (picture courtesy:

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Insurance Claims From California’s Wildfire At $9 Billion

State and federal officials are currently removing hazardous household materials from the damaged properties.

California, Insurance
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones talks about the costs of recent wildfires during a news conference in Sacramento, California. VOA

Insurance claims from last month’s California wildfires already are at $9 billion and expected to increase, the state’s insurance commissioner announced Wednesday.

About $7 billion in claims are from the Camp Fire that destroyed the Northern California city of Paradise and killed at least 86 people, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century. The rest is from the Woolsey and Hill fires in Southern California.

Collectively, the fires destroyed or damaged more than 20,000 structures, with the vast majority in and around Paradise. On Tuesday, state and federal authorities estimated it will cost at least $3 billion just to clear debris.

“As the claims get perfected, as individuals get access to their former homes and neighborhoods, as they dialogue with their insurance companies and share more information about the scope of their loss, we expect these numbers to rise,” Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said of the $9 billion estimate.

California, Wildfire, Insurance
Jennifer Christensen sorts through items found in a safe at the remains of her home Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise, California. VOA

Over 28,000 claims

There are more than 28,000 claims for residential personal property, nearly 2,000 from commercial property and 9,400 in auto and other claims for the fires.

That’s well above the number of claims filed following a series of fires that tore through Northern California’s wine country last year. Losses from those fires were initially pegged at $3.3 billion but eventually grew to $10 billion.

While the Camp Fire destroyed about double the number of structures as the 2017 fires, home values in Butte County are far lower than those in Sonoma County. That’s part of the reason total claims may seem low compared to the 2017 figures, Jones said. Median home values in Sonoma County are more than double those in Butte.

Jones advised home owners to be cautious of “fraudsters and scam artists” trying to take advantage of vulnerable communities.

California, Fire prevention, wildfires, Insurance, rain
A controlled burn ignites pine trees on the “Rough Fire” — which closed camps east of Fresno at Hume Lake as it crossed Highway 180 — in the Sequoia National Forest in California, Aug. 21, 2015. VOA

He also said its time for California to start rethinking how and if it builds in fire-prone areas. Ken Pimlott, outgoing director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told The Associated Press this week the state should consider banning construction in vulnerable areas.

Jones said local governments may not be fully considering the long-term impacts of building in areas at high risk of fire, floods and rising sea levels.

“That’s going to be a hard conversation. Everybody likes to build new, people obviously want to rebuild their communities,” he said. “We’re in a new era where these risks are so bad I think we’ve really got to take a look at how we’re making these decisions.”

Cause of fire remains unknown

Authorities are still determining what caused the fire.

Pacific Gas & Electric told regulators that a high-voltage power line malfunctioned at the time and spot that investigators believe the fire started on Nov. 8.

California, Fire prevention, wildfires, Insurance
Joe Balog, a workforce management director at Travelers, examines weather, social media and other data from recent natural disasters inside the company’s catastrophe response command center in Windsor, Connecticut. VOA

The San Francisco-based utility told the California Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday that several miles away workers found a fallen power pole and equipment with bullet holes.

86 deaths linked to fire

A number of fire victims have filed lawsuits alleging that PG&E’s equipment started the fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed at least 86 people.

The cleanup costs for last month’s fires will far surpass the record expense of $1.3 billion the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers spent on debris removal in Northern California in 2017.

California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said the state will manage cleanup contracts this time. Last year, hundreds of Northern California homeowners complained that contractors paid by the ton hauled away too much dirt and damaged unbroken driveways, sidewalks and pipes.

The state OES spent millions repairing that damage.

California, School
Trees reflect in a swimming pool outside Erica Hail’s Paradise, Calif., home, which burned during the Camp Fire. VOA

Lesson learned

Ghilarducci said the state OES will hire auditors and monitors to watch over debris removal in hopes of cutting down on the number of over-eager contractors.

“We learned a great number of things,” last year, Ghilarducci said.

Also Read: Insurance Company’s Response To Wildfire Claims Better Due to Technology

He said the U.S. Corps of Engineers was asked to lead the effort last year because state resources were stretched thin after responding to more than a dozen wildfires. This year, he said state officials can manage the cleanup and costs will be shared among state, federal and local authorities.

Cleanup is expected to begin in January and take about a year to complete. State and federal officials are currently removing hazardous household materials from the damaged properties. (VOA)