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By Guest Contributor Ay-leen The Peacemaker, cross-posted from Beyond Victoriana
In California at the turn of the 20th century, a community grew in southern California with an interesting history: Punjabi-Mexican families of the Imperial Valley. This unique community stemmed from the effects of British colonialism, transnational labor immigration & American economic opportunity (and American anti-Asian discrimination laws). Many multi-generational families in the area today can trace their multicultural and multiethnic histories back over a hundred years, and refer to themselves as “Mexican Hindus”, “Hindu” or “East Indian” today.
During the 19th century, many Punjabi families sent their sons abroad to earn a living outside the British Raj; most of these sons had served as part of the British army and police force in China. Eventually, these men saved enough for passage to America to work in manufacturing, lumber, or agriculture, with a majority of this immigration happening between 1900 and 1917. These bands of travelling workers were known in America as “Hindu crews.” Others from the middle to upper-middle classes sough educational opportunities in American universities. These Punjabi immigrants typically entered America through Angel Island, the entry point for overseas immigration on the US West Coast. According to Professor Karen Leonard, “Some 85 percent of the men who came during those years were Sikhs, 13 percent were Muslims, and only 2 percent were really Hindus.”