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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

UC Davis’s first-ever Punjabi Week celebrated all the culture has to offer

The activities, coordinated by the UC Davis Punjabi Club, connected students to their heritage and spread cultural awareness 

 

By RUMA POUDELL — arts@theaggie.org

 

Davis is situated in the heart of the first South Asian community in the United States. Most of the South Asian migrants who came to the Sacramento Valley area came from Punjab, a region in northwest India, and the community developed there in the late nineteenth century due to an abundant agricultural background, 

This year, Punjab took center stage during Davis’ first-ever Punjabi Week, showcasing the region’s vibrant tradition and rich heritage. Each day of Punjabi Week brought together students, connecting them to and teaching them about Punjabi culture through art, music, dancing, food and meaningful discussion.

To kick off the week, students and faculty met under a decorated canopy on the Quad, where they were served jalebi, a traditional sweet snack, and various other treats. Punjabi music was blasting, dholis were smacking their dhols and bhangra dancers were dancing. The event was lively and had a great turnout. 

Amandeep Kaur Dhaliwal, a first-year English and international relations double major, spoke about the connections Punjabi Week created.

 “As a freshman who didn’t really know many other people who were Punjabi, I personally got to know so many people,” Dhaliwal said. “I think it creates this sense of family and community with people who are similar to you and share the same values.” 

A Gurbani Sangeet (the classical Sikh music style) concert was held on the second day. The event was led by undergraduate instrumental musicians and singers. Students like Rasleen Kaur believe in their culture and faith despite unbelievable hardship, which is a feature of Punjabi culture that was displayed through the selected songs performed. 

The next event was a webinar hosted by women in the Punjabi community, during which they discussed the heritage of their food, different recipes and Punjab’s culture of hospitality that has carried over into the United States.

Nicole Ranganath, a member of UC Davis’s Middle East/South Asia studies (ME/SA) faculty, as well as the filmmaker and curator of the Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive, touched on her experience with this facet of the culture. 

“As a recipient of Punjabi hospitality, it is extremely humbling,” Ranganath said. “One of the core features of Punjabi culture is generosity and sharing your time, your wealth and your energy with other people. [Guests] come to your home and you give the best of everything you have.” 

On Thursday, a documentary by Harleen Kaur Bal, a UC Davis Ph.D. student studying sociocultural anthropology, was screened for the community to learn about the challenges that working-class Punjabi immigrants face today in California. The documentary focused on Punjabi immigrants who work in dangerous conditions in the meat-packing industry due to limited job options.

Lastly, on Friday, Professor Gurdev S. Khush was honored by Chancellor Gary May and Dr. Estella Atekwana, who is the Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, for donating his personal and research papers to the university library. Professor Khush is one of the most distinguished faculty at UC Davis, and his research efforts have led to an astounding advancement in increasing the world’s supply of rice. The night was filled with rich discussion reflecting on Professor Khush’s life and his legacy, as well as food and socializing. 

Punjabi Week was a success as a result of hard work and support from the Interim Director of the Davis Humanities Institute, Archana Venkatesan and the ME/SA program, along with many dedicated student leaders. The ME/SA program began 20 years ago and has been growing ever since.

ME/SA’s role is to offer classes and major and minor programs that connect students to the history and contemporary issues in countries in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, including Punjab. Through classes and student-led activities, students can learn about the cultures and languages of these countries.

“There was never a platform distinctively dedicated to the Punjabi community as a whole without boundaries dividing by religion or geographic boundary,” Prabhjot Singh, a third-year biological sciences major and co-founder of Punjabi Club on campus, said. “So for this first-ever Punjabi Week, everyone came out and showed so much enthusiasm and got things started off on a strong note.”

While a few days cannot encapsulate all of Punjabi culture, Punjabi Week is part of a long-term effort to do so. The week brought community members together with a cohesive vision of how to serve students as well as the greater community.

Everyone is welcome to get involved in the events organized by the Punjabi Club, which include movie nights, language tutoring sessions and cultural festivities. UC Davis will begin offering elementary and intermediate Punjabi language classes in fall quarter 2024.  Dr. Kuldeep Singh will teach Elementary Punjabi (CRN 53009) and Intermediate Punjabi (CRN 52464). During the fall, Professor Ranganath will also be teaching two classes — Social Justice in the Middle East and South Asia (CRN 41436) and the South Asian Diaspora (CRN 41438). 

Written by: Ruma Poudell — arts@theaggie.org