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[COMMUNITY] California's Punjabi (Indian) Mexican Americans

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  • madchinaman
    California s Punjabi Mexican Americans Ethnic choices made by the descendants of Punjabi pioneers and their Mexican wives By Karen Leonard, Professor of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 18, 2006
      California's Punjabi Mexican Americans
      Ethnic choices made by the descendants of Punjabi pioneers and their
      Mexican wives
      By Karen Leonard, Professor of Anthropology at the University of
      California at Irvine.
      (Originally published in The World & I, vol. 4(5), May 1989, pp. 612-
      623.)
      (This article appeared in the May 1989 issue and is reprinted with
      permission from The World & I, a publication of The Washington Times
      Corporation, copyright (c) 1989.)
      http://www.sikhpioneers.org//cpma.html


      -

      The end of colonial rule in India and the birth of two new nations-
      India and Pakistan-was celebrated in California in 1947 by immigrant
      men from India's Punjab province. Their wives and children
      celebrated with them. With few exceptions, these wives were of
      Mexican ancestry and their children were variously called "Mexican
      Hindus," an American misnomer for people from India. In a photo
      taken during the 1947 celebrations in the northern California farm
      town of Yuba City, all the wives of the "Hindus" are of Mexican
      descent, save two Anglo women and one woman from India.

      There were celebrations in Yuba City in 1988. Too; the Sikh Parade
      (November 6) and the Old-Timers' Reunion Christmas Dance (November !
      2). Descendants of the Punjabi- Mexicans might attend either or both
      of these events—the Sikh Parade, because most of the Punjabi
      pioneers were Sikhs, and the annual Christmas dance, because it
      began as a reunion for descendants of the Punjabi pioneers. Men from
      India's Punjab province came to California chiefly between 1900 and
      1917; after that, immigration practices and laws discriminated
      against Asians and legal entry was all but impossible. Some 85
      percent of the men who came during those years were Sikhs, 13
      percent were Muslims, and only 2 percent were really Hindus.

      Marriages between Punjabis and Mexicans began in the second decade
      of the twentieth century. Most descendants of these Punjabi-Mexican
      couples continue to refer to themselves as Hindus, and they are very
      proud of their Punjabi background. Yet most descendants are
      Catholic, and while most are bilingual, they speak English and
      Spanish, not Punjabi. An understanding of the ethnic choices made by
      the Punjabi-Mexican descendants requires an excursion into the
      history of their community.

      -


      The end of colonial rule in India and the birth of two new nations-
      India and Pakistan-was celebrated in California in 1947 by immigrant
      men from India's Punjab province. Their wives and children
      celebrated with them. With few exceptions, these wives were of
      Mexican ancestry and their children were variously called "Mexican
      Hindus," an American misnomer for people from India. In a photo
      taken during the 1947 celebrations in the northern California farm
      town of Yuba City, all the wives of the "Hindus" are of Mexican
      descent, save two Anglo women and one woman from India.

      There were celebrations in Yuba City in 1988. Too; the Sikh Parade
      (November 6) and the Old-Timers' Reunion Christmas Dance (November !
      2). Descendants of the Punjabi- Mexicans might attend either or both
      of these events—the Sikh Parade, because most of the Punjabi
      pioneers were Sikhs, and the annual Christmas dance, because it
      began as a reunion for descendants of the Punjabi pioneers. Men from
      India's Punjab province came to California chiefly between 1900 and
      1917; after that, immigration practices and laws discriminated
      against Asians and legal entry was all but impossible. Some 85
      percent of the men who came during those years were Sikhs, 13
      percent were Muslims, and only 2 percent were really Hindus.

      Marriages between Punjabis and Mexicans began in the second decade
      of the twentieth century. Most descendants of these Punjabi-Mexican
      couples continue to refer to themselves as Hindus, and they are very
      proud of their Punjabi background. Yet most descendants are
      Catholic, and while most are bilingual, they speak English and
      Spanish, not Punjabi. An understanding of the ethnic choices made by
      the Punjabi-Mexican descendants requires an excursion into the
      history of their community.

      The Punjabi immigrants
      For decades, farming families had been sending sons out of the
      Punjab to earn money. Punjabis constituted a disproportionate share
      of the British Indian military and police services throughout the
      British Empire, in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the
      China treaty ports. Many of those who ended up in California had
      served overseas in the British Indian army or police in China and
      crossed the Pacific for the better wages in railroad, lumbering, and
      agricultural work.

      On arrival in California, a few sold tamales from carts in San
      Francisco, but the majority began as migrant laborers, moving in
      groups around the state with a "boss man" who knew English and made
      contracts with employers.

      Work and settlement patterns varied regionally in California,
      depending on the types of crops grown and the nature of the local
      population, both in terms of numbers and racial or ethnic
      composition. Intending to return to India, only a handful of men had
      brought their wives and families; soon it was not possible to bring
      them. In northern California's Sacramento Valley, Punjabis tended to
      work in gangs, and were called "Hindu crews." Most of the Imperial
      Valley. Eventually, there were almost four hundred of these biethnic
      couples clustered in California's agricultural valley. Some 250
      couples lived in the Imperial Valley in the south, some ninety
      couples lived in the Sacramento Valley in the north, and some fifty
      couples lived in the Central Valley around Fresno.

      The Punjabi men chose women of Mexican ancestry for many reasons.
      Mexican women were thought to resemble Punjabis physically, and many
      were beautiful. Perhaps most important, Mexican women were
      accessible in southern California (in the central and northern areas
      of the state most of the Punjabi men remained bachelors). Mexican
      families picked cotton in the fields farmed by the Punjabi men.
      Mexicans and Punjabis shared a rural way of life; with similar types
      of food, furniture, and so on, they had a similar material culture.
      Furthermore, Mexicans and Punjabis shared an initially lower-class
      status.

      These marriages were more than a matter of individual choice,
      however, for the fact was that miscegenation laws prohibited
      marriages across racial lines in California until 1948. Most
      California county clerks saw the Punjabi men as colored, or "brown,"
      the word they used most often on the marriage license to describe
      the men's race. Thus the women the Punjabis married also had to be
      perceived as "brown," and that generally meant women off Mexican
      ancestry.

      Ethnic similarities between the men and women were most striking at
      the time these marriages began to occur. Like Mexicans, Punjabis
      were discriminated against by white society. At least half of the
      women, like the men, were pioneers in a new country and came from a
      group entering the agricultural economy as laborers. A wave of
      Mexican migration into the United States was just beginning in the
      decade of the 1910s, fueled by the Mexican Revolution and its
      attendant political and economic turmoil.

      In Texas and California, where cotton was being cultivated by
      Punjabi men with the help of Mexican immigrant laborers, the growing
      number of biethnic couples began to constitute a biethnic community
      with certain characteristic features. The women were usually much
      younger than their husbands – the men were typically in their
      thirties and forties, and the women were in their teens and
      twenties. The women were almost all Catholic, but most marriage
      ceremonies were civil. The signatures of brides and grooms alike
      testify to a low level of literacy. Husbands and wives spoke to each
      other in rudimentary English or Spanish. Punjabi men learned Spanish
      to deal with Mexican agricultural laborers and to speak to their
      wives. Some Punjabi men adopted Spanish names or nicknames: Miguel
      for Magyar, Andreas for Inter, Mondo for Mohamed.

      The Punjabi-Mexican marriage pattern soon became well established.
      The first brides recruited other women, their relatives and friends,
      for marriages with Punjabi men. Sisters with small children who had
      been deserted or widowed were called from Mexico to marry Punjabis.
      The men traveled too.

      A Sikh from the Imperial Valley took the train to El Paso, Texas,
      looking for the nieces of a Mexican woman working for him. He
      knocked on the wrong door, and the mother and three daughters on the
      other side mistook him at first for a Turk because of his turban.
      But in a few days, he and his new bride, her mother, and sisters
      were on the train back to El Centro.

      The Sikh's partners married the other sisters and eventually the
      mother also married a Punjabi Sikh. This was a typical pattern—many
      sets of sisters or female relatives married business partners and
      formed joint households along the irrigation canals and country
      roads.

      The birth of children brought a stronger sense of community and a
      shift of domestic power to the women. Almost without exception, the
      children were given Spanish names. (Rarely, a father filed an
      affidavit of correction later, giving a son a Punjabi name. Some
      divorce cases showed that names were a source of conflict: The
      fathers used Punjabi names for their children, the mothers,
      Spanish.) Another strengthening of the women's network came with the
      appropriation of the compadrazgo system of fictive kinship, which
      drew upon relatives and friends as religious sponsors in the
      Catholic church. Punjabi men stood as godfathers to each other's
      children in this basically Catholic system, but it was the women who
      were central to it.

      How were children, given names like Maria Jesusita Singh, Jose Akbar
      Khan, and Armando Chand, socialized, and how did they think of
      themselves? Contrary to Yusuf Dadabhay's theory that the Punjabis
      assimilated to American culture by way of the Mexican- American
      subculture, the Punjabi-Mexican families did not participate in
      activities with Mexican-Americans nor were they well received by
      members of that community. Mexican men opposed these marriages, and
      there were some early instances of violence between Punjabis and
      Mexicans over them. While some Punjabi men were close to their
      Mexican relatives by marriage, most were not.

      These biethnic families formed communities of their own, and
      families visited across county and state lines (there were small
      numbers of Punjabi-Mexican families in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico,
      and Utah, too). The partnerships and friendships of the Punjabi men
      were the basis of these interactions, but there was a double
      structure; often the wives of given sets of business partners or
      friends were sisters or related to each other in some other way. So
      both male friendships and female kinship structured family life.

      Yet it was clearly the mothers who socialized the children. The
      children spoke to their mothers in Spanish and to their fathers in
      English and/or Spanish. A few of the boys who worked in the fields
      with Hindu crews learned some Punjabi; sometimes these boys were
      Mexican stepsons. Most of them were raised as Catholics, and the
      fathers left this to the mothers and encouraged it. The fathers had
      neither the time nor the training to teach their children about,
      Islam, or Hinduism. The children had godparents who sponsored them
      at baptism, confirmation, and marriage in the Catholic Church—even
      though most godfathers were from the community and were Sikhs,
      Muslims, or Hindus. These children met with prejudice from both
      Anglos and from Mexicans-—they were called "dirty Hindus" and "half
      and halves." Their favorite day was Sunday, when Punjabi men and
      their families got together for talk, play, and a dinner of chicken
      curry and roti (bread). They liked going to the Stockton Sikh temple
      or working the migratory labor route, because they could meet others
      like themselves.

      The fathers transmitted little of Punjabi culture to their wives and
      children, save in the domains of food and funeral practices. Cooking
      in the home drew from both Mexican and Punjabi cuisine and the men
      taught their wives to cook chicken curry, roti, and various
      vegetable curries. Today, the Rasul family in Yuba City runs the
      only Mexican restaurant in California that features chicken curry
      and roti. Another important retention of Punjabi culture was the
      disposition of the body upon death. Sikhs insisted upon cremation,
      then uncommon in North America, and Muslims carried out orthodox
      burial ceremonies for each other (though the plots in which they are
      buried in rural California are termed "Hindu plots"). The wives,
      however, were buried in the Mexican Catholic section of local
      cemeteries, as were the children.

      Constructions of ethnicity
      Most of the Punjabi descendants refer to themselves as Hindu or East
      Indian today. When they talk about being Hindu, these descendants do
      not mean objective criteria that link them to India or the Punjab—
      attributes such as those an anthropologist might list. They are
      fundamentally ignorant of Punjabi and Indian culture. For example,
      while most of the men who founded these families were actually
      Sikhs, not Hindus, their descendants (and even the descendants of
      Muslim Punjabis) proudly claim to be Hindu. These descendants are
      almost all nonspeakers of Punjabi and have no sense of the Punjab's
      distinctive regional culture. They have a sense of place and
      history, however, and they possess a heritage that is distinctly
      Punjabi nonetheless.

      One of the reasons descendants claim more strongly to be Hindu
      rather than Mexican is a negative one—to be Mexican in California's
      agricultural towns is to affiliate with the laborer, not the
      landowner, class—but there are other, positive reasons for claiming
      to be Hindu. There is some identification with place and locality in
      the spatial sense, a belief that California's agricultural valleys
      resemble the Punjabi homeland (certainly the fathers promulgated
      this view).

      There were other perceptions (or creations) of similarities that the
      men expressed about their new lives and that their descendants
      continue to voice. These other perceived similarities, the senses in
      which the descendants in California today feel themselves to be
      Punjabi, to be Hindu, include their place in the political system
      and their ideas about Punjabi and Mexican material culture,
      language, and religion.

      The original Punjabi immigrants found the physical landscape of
      California similar to that of the Punjab; the political landscape
      and their place in it also struck them as similar to that in British
      India. The men's resentment at being colonial subjects as well as
      their resentment at being deprived of legal rights in the United
      States is strongly evident in all contemporary accounts. The Punjabi
      men organized the militantly nationalist Ghadar Party in California
      to fight against the British back in India; they contributed money,
      and some of them went back to participate in Ghadar party activities
      there. They fought hard for political rights here, too, organizing
      groups and supporting lobbyists to gain U.S. citizenship. They
      interpreted both their past and present as a struggle for one's
      rightful place in society, particularly a place on the land, a very
      important component of Punjabi identity. This interpretation has
      continuing meaning to their children, most of whom still live and
      work in agricultural valleys in California. They too feel strong
      resentment for being looked down upon as "half and halves," for
      being pushed into the Mexican and black schools, and, most of all,
      for not having the land today that their fathers "really earned" but
      were unable to acquire easily because of the Alien Land Law.
      Passionate resistance to the political authority that subordinated
      them linked the fathers to each other in the past, and it links
      their descendants to their fathers and to each other today.
      Central to the sense of continuing Punjabi identity is the question
      of how the marriages with Mexican women—women perceived today by new
      Indian immigrants as decidedly different from them—are viewed.
      Rather than emphasize (or even mention) the miscegenation laws that
      played a major role in determining their choice of spouses, the men
      and their descendants, when interviewed, talk about commonalities
      between the Punjabi men and Mexican women. They do not argue that
      they occupied the same space in the social landscape; that would go
      against the general Punjabi sense of superiority to Mexicans that
      carried over from their landowner status in the Punjab. They do
      argue that there were similarities of physical appearance and even
      of language ("Spanish is just like Punjabi, really"); they argue
      also that Mexicans and Punjabis shared the same material culture. As
      Moola Singh of Selma, California, who has thirteen children from
      three marriages with Mexican women says:

      I never have to explain anything India to my Mexican family. Cooking
      the same, only talk us different. I explain them, customs in India
      same as in Mexico. Everything same, only language different. They
      make roti over there, sit on the floor—all customs India the same
      Mexico, the way of living. I went to Mexico two, three times, you
      know, not too far; just like India, just like it. Adobe houses in
      Mexico, they sit on floor there, make tortillas (roti you know). All
      kinds of food the same, eat from plates sometimes, some places
      tables and benches. India the same, used to eat on the floor, or
      cutting two boards, made benches.

      The women came from a similar material culture, it seems, but what
      about the religious differences? The men and their descendants state
      repeatedly that all religions are the same, a view again in sharp
      contrast to that expressed by more recent immigrants from India. The
      statements take different forms: The Sikh religion is just like the
      Catholic one; Sikhism is a composite of Islam, Hinduism, and
      Christianity; the Granth Sahib is just like the Bible; all goods are
      the same, but they are called different names because languages are
      different; Sikhism has the ten cruz, or ten crosses which are the
      ten gurus; the founding Sikh guru preached just what is in the Old
      Testament; Sikhs have all the commandments Catholics have; one can
      be Muslim and Catholic or Sikh and Catholic at the same time.
      Ignoring religious differences now significant in India, these
      statements stress similarities between the Indian religions and
      Christianity, frequently using metaphors and analogies to erase
      distinctions. While there were many vigorously contested matters
      between pioneer Punjabi husbands and Mexican wives, the children's
      religious training was not one of them. The men wanted to inculcate
      respect for Sikhism, Hinduism, or Islam, while they encouraged their
      children to practice Catholicism (or whatever form of Christianity
      their wives practiced).

      Even as the Punjabi men talk about the similarities between their
      homeland and California, upon which they base their continuing
      collective identity – geography and landscape, the struggle for
      one's rightful social and political place, wives from a background
      materially and culturally similar to their own—they also talk about
      things that are different, particularly social practices that were
      not appropriate to their new country. Most mention behaviors
      conditioned by caste and religion back in India, but they usually
      behave or advocate behaving differently in California. While they
      point out the Untouchables in their midst (most immigrants were Jat
      Sikhs, a landowning caste), the Untouchables socialize with the
      others on a daily basis— chatting, for example, in Holtville Park
      during the midday rest. The Punjabi men also remark on prohibited
      Sikh-Muslim-Hindu interactions in India, but men from all three
      religions generally work, eat, and socialize together in California.
      When talking to their wives and children about religion, as we have
      seen, the husbands reconceptualize differences as similarities at a
      higher analytic level.
      The original Punjabi immigrants refused to transmit elements of
      Punjabi culture that they judged inappropriate in the United States,
      according to their children. Many fathers felt that the immigration
      laws and other discriminatory policies against Asians had made it
      useless to teach the children Punjabi, or even to tell them about
      Punjabi society. Social practices from the Punjab, life cycle
      ceremonies, and caste and religious distinctions and observances,
      were consciously discarded; when interviewed, several children
      remarked on their father's refusal to talk to them about the Punjab,
      refusals justified by the uselessness of such knowledge and by the
      need to become American. Of course, some fathers resurrected the
      ghosts of caste, sect, and region from their pasts as their children
      began to date and marry. But since they had not taught their wives
      and the children the importance of these distinctions earlier, their
      concerns came too late. As one indignant wife defended her
      daughter's right to date someone: "We're all Americans here—what is
      this caste thing?"

      Ethnic choices
      The children grew up, therefore, with a collective identity that
      drew upon two cultural traditions, and they drew upon both in making
      ethnic choices. There were occasions for choice, some posed by the
      individual life cycle. As they grew up and began dating (parents
      permitting), they could date and marry older Punjabi men, Anglos,
      Mexican-Americans, or others like themselves. Most married Anglos or
      Mexican-Americans. They could profess Christianity (most) or Islam
      (a few), or they could feel themselves to be both Christian and
      Sikh, Muslim, or Hindu at the same time (many).
      As they left the Imperial Valley and other places where they were
      known, they were given new labels. One man had been called Mexican-
      Hindu all his life by everyone, including state authorities in the
      Imperial Valley. Working near Sacramento when the United States
      entered World War II, he enlisted in military service there, giving
      his race as "Hindu and Mexican." The clerk listed him as Caucasian
      despite his protests; this was a shock to him, an introduction to a
      wider world, and in some sense, a loss.


      Other ethnic choices were posed by external circumstances, perhaps
      the most important being the independence of India and Pakistan in
      the late 1940s and the changed U.S. immigration law in 1965. The
      independence and partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 brought
      tremendous pride and pleasure to the old Punjabis in the United
      States, men long deprived of meaningful citizenship in any country.
      As we have seen, the wives and children of the Sikhs and Hindus
      celebrated Indian independence; further, the families of the Muslim
      Punjabi immigrants renamed themselves Spanish-Pakistanis. Again
      their choices emphasized the South Asian heritage. Yet it has become
      increasingly difficult for these descendants of the early Punjabis
      to claim Hindu status in the face of the new immigrant populations
      from South Asia.

      The arrival of many new South Asian immigrants after the 1965
      liberalization of U.S. immigration law has changed the context
      dramatically, and the descendants of the old-timers have had to
      sharpen and defend their ethnic choices. Thousands of the newcomers—
      most of them—are educated professionals coming from all over South
      Asia. Some, however, are Punjabi villagers much like the earlier
      immigrants, coming from the very same villages and settling in the
      same rural areas of California where descendants of the pioneers
      reside. What are the descendants' perceptions of these recent
      immigrants, and have those perceptions affected their claim to Hindu
      ethnicity?

      The problem is most acute in Yuba City, where aging bachelor
      Punjabis have sponsored many new immigrants and where chain
      migration has brought the new immigrant population up to about ten
      thousand. In the Imperial Valley, there are many more Punjabi-
      Mexicans, and very few new immigrants from South Asia. The Punjabi-
      Mexican descendants in the Yuba City area welcomed the first few
      newcomers and contributed to the building of the first Sikh gurdwara
      (temple) in Yuba City. One of two benches at the gurdwara entrance
      reads "In loving memory of our father Harnam Singh Sidhu, 1891-1974,
      from children Isabel S. Villasenor, Ray S. Sidhu, Frank S. Sidhu,
      Pete S. Sidhu, Beatrice S. Myers." But by the mid-1970s, the two
      groups were diverging fast; the newcomers disapproved of and
      minimized the Punjabi-Mexican marriages that had occurred and would
      not acknowledge the descendants' claims to membership in the same
      community. One anthropologist reports that Punjabi wives objected to
      the other wives cooking in the gurdwara, suspecting that the food
      was being poisoned. Even if the story is untrue, it is significant
      that it is being told, and the fact is that few Punjabi-Mexican
      descendants visit the gurdwara for any reason today.

      In both the Stockton Sikh temple and the Muslim mosque started in
      Sacramento in 1947, the old and new immigrant communities jostle
      uneasily. Spanish-Pakistani descendants do not like the practice of
      gender segregation instituted by the new immigrants from Pakistan,
      and the old Sikhs and their descendants find new practices in the
      Sikh temple similarly objectionable. Moola Singh gives a vivid
      description of the changes and his reaction to them:
      About our churches here, everybody went to the Stockton one, at
      least if they lived close by there, you know. Hindu, Muslim,
      everybody went. Afterwards, these days now, I don't know what
      they're doing….One thing I don't like, not for that new group, not
      everybody can go. Before, the Hindu men married women here. You
      know, everybody married white women, everybody married Mexican
      women, everybody went to church. And our people, everybody went and
      sat on chairs. That was before, not now. Then, everybody could sit
      on a chair. And for food, they gave it on a plate, with a spoon, and
      paper to clean your hands. But after that, some Indian farmers and
      preachers have come. They want all the customs like India, and
      they've taken away the chairs, put people back on the floor again.
      I went with my wife one time to Stockton, where they have lots of
      chairs in back. Me and my wife, we got a couple of chairs, we sat in
      the back. "All right man, sit on the floor, all right man, sit on
      the floor," someone said to us. I don't care, people like that,
      people from India, why not have a church like other churches in this
      country? These India people are damn fools. Why have a church like
      before, why sit on the floor, why have no chairs, why have nothing?
      Today, it's different, twenty or fifty years have passed and today
      it's different.


      As Moola Singh points out, the pioneer immigrants and their
      descendants have adopted new ways appropriate to their new country,
      and they view the reimposition of South Asian customs as unwelcome
      and backward-looking. As the new Punjabi immigrant population has
      increased, tension over such issues has increased as well. In 1974,
      the Punjabi-Mexicans initiated their Old-Timers' Reunion Christmas
      Dance, billing it as a reunion for descendants of the Punjabi
      pioneer and publicizing it to bolster their claims of South Asian
      descent. Yet from the first, the dance betrayed the double ethnic
      identity of its sponsors, featuring mariachi bands and exuberant
      dancing, and including Mexican- American friends and relatives. In
      1979, the new immigrant Sikh community began its annual Sikh Parade,
      a militant-looking march through Yuba City by hundreds (some say
      thousands) of Sikh men, women, and children in Punjabi dress led by
      bearded, turbaned men with drawn swords. This first parade aroused
      local apprehension and prejudice, feelings already present because
      of the very successful Punjabi peach farmers and their acquisition
      of orchard land in the area. Increasing prejudice against the new
      immigrants from India made it somewhat less desirable to claim Hindu
      status, yet descendants persisted. One such woman, Isabel Singh
      Garcia, published a long letter entitled "They Are Too Hindus" in
      the local paper. The descendants' strategy now is to claim not only
      to be real Hindus, but better Americans than the newcomers. They
      draw attention to the differences between their fathers and the new
      Punjabi immigrants. These differences begin with physical appearance
      and manner of self-presentation: They say their fathers were big
      men, commanding, proud, and light-skinned, while the newcomers are
      small, obsequious, deferential, and dark-skinned. (This may have
      some basis in reality: Many of the pioneers had served in the
      British military and police services, which had such physical
      requirements for enlistment.) Attitudinal and behavioral differences—
      ways in which the newcomers are not becoming American as the old-
      timers did—are stressed as well.
      The descendants of the Punjabi pioneers now avoid the Sikh Parade.
      They still hold their annual Christmas dance, but its character has
      changed. The dance has broadened its constituency to include all who
      went to school with the founders of the dance in Yuba City; it is
      now called the Old-Timers' Dance and the organizing committee is
      primarily Mexican-American. In 1988 only two of the eight organizers
      and about one-tenth of those attending were descendants of Punjabis
      or related to them by marriage. The theme was Hawaiian, with "Aloha"
      written on a banner above the band platform. The invitation
      began, "Hello/Ohio/Buenos Dias," emphasizing cultural pluralism and
      the claim to be American. Those who attended this rousing evening
      with its lively band and delicious Mexican dinner did tell stories
      about the pioneer couples, mimicking the broken English of the men
      from India, but the dance itself was a thoroughly American affair,
      albeit with a Mexican-American tinge. The ethnic choices made by the
      Punjabi-Mexican-American pioneers remind us sharply that collective
      social identity entails some form of self-definition founded upon a
      marked opposition between "we" and "others." Changing contexts,
      changing local configurations of "we" and "others," stimulated
      the "old Hindus" and their descendants to make ethnic choices to
      reconstruct their sense of place and society as they made this land
      their own. The contribution of the Punjabi-Mexican-American families
      of California, chicken curry and tamales aside, ultimately lies in
      their demonstration of the flexibility of ethnicity, both its
      grounding in a specific political economy and its responsiveness to
      situational factors that allow individuals and groups to make ethnic
      choices.
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