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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 ozy.com) (picture courtesy: wordpress.com)

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California Cuts Coffee Off From Cancer Causing Chemicals

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

A posted Proposition 65 warning sign is seen on display at a coffee shop in Burbank, Calif., March 30, 2018.
A posted Proposition 65 warning sign is seen on display at a coffee shop in Burbank, Calif., March 30, 2018. VOA

California officials, having concluded coffee drinking is not a risky pastime, are proposing a regulation that will essentially tell consumers of America’s favorite beverage they can drink up without fear.

The unprecedented action Friday by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to propose a regulation to clear coffee of the stigma that it could pose a toxic risk followed a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.

The state agency implements a law passed by voters in 1986 that requires warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, which is found in many things and is a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing present in every cup of joe.

Win for coffee industry

If the regulation is adopted, it would be a huge win for the coffee industry, which faces potentially massive civil penalties after recently losing an 8-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that could require scary warnings on all coffee packaging sold in California.

Judge Elihu Berle found that Starbucks and other coffee roasters and retailers had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any cancer risks. He had previously ruled the companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

“The proposed regulation would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement. “The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”

A barista pours steamed milk into a cup of coffee at a cafe in Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2017. State health officials proposed a regulation change Friday that would declare coffee doesn't present a significant cancer risk, countering a California court ruling.
A barista pours steamed milk into a cup of coffee at a cafe in Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2017. State health officials proposed a regulation change Friday that would declare coffee doesn’t present a significant cancer risk, countering a California court ruling. VOA

Unprecedented move

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said he was shocked the agency would move to nullify the court decision and undermine its own report more than a decade ago that drinking even small amounts of coffee resulted in a significant cancer risk.

“The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That’s unprecedented and bad,” Metzger said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.”

The National Coffee Association had no comment on the proposed change. In the past, the organization has said coffee has health benefits and that the lawsuit made a mockery of the state law intended to protect people from toxics.

Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth over many years, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers, with some studies finding health benefits.

Big Coffee didn’t deny that acrylamide was found in the coffee, but argued it was only found at low levels and was outweighed by other benefits such as antioxidants that reduce cancer risk.

Coffee beans
Coffee beans, Pixabay


The state agency’s action comes about a week after bipartisan bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to require science-based criteria for labels on food and other products. One of the sponsors, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, alluded to the California coffee lawsuit as an example of misleading warnings.

“When we have mandatory cancer warnings on a cup of coffee, something has gone seriously wrong with the process,” Schrader said in a news release. “We now have so many warnings unrelated to the actual health risk posed to consumers, that most people just ignore them.”

The lawsuit against Starbucks and 90 companies was brought by the tiny nonprofit under a law that allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.

Also read: What Does Your Coffee Say About You?

The law has been credited with reducing cancer-causing chemicals, but it has been criticized for leading to quick settlement shakedowns and vague warnings that are often ignored. (VOA)