America’s “Hindu crews”: Sikh immigration in the 1900s

Sikh workers in the lumber industry (photo:

Sikh workers in the lumber industry (photo:

An interesting post on the blog Beyond Victoriana gives a short history of the “Hindu crews”  – migrant laborers from India – that saw with them the earliest accounts of Sikh immigration to the United States at the end of the 19th century:

“Some 85 percent of the men who came during those years were Sikhs, 13 percent were Muslims, and only 2 percent were really Hindus.”

The article goes on to describe the genesis of Punjabi-Mexican families, as these Punjabi and Sikh men would marry into the families of fellow Mexican laborers. 

An interesting personal account of these Sikhs was provided by Dr. Tarlochan Singh from San Jose, California.  He describes how the descendents of these Sikhs – while practicing Catholics – still retained many Sikh-related qualities such as language (Punjabi) and spiritual practices:

I have an old Mexican-Sikh friend (Mohan Singh) who owns a farm next door to my small farm in the Fresno area. He also helps in managing my farm. He is a product of Mexican woman and a Sikh father. All his family members (children and grandchildren) use Singh as their last name! He has other siblings as well who just love the Sikh community. They all have families. Even though they are Christians, they have strong ties with the Sikh community. Mohan Singh still donates to the local Sikh Gurdwara and helps in arranging Nagar Kirtan (Sikh Parade) using his influence with the city officials. When he built his house on his farm in Selma, his family held an Akhand Patth ceremony (continuous reading of the Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib) to seek Guru’s blessings.

It is interesting to observe how far back Sikhs go in this country, and how Sikh culture and religion have been retained, even by their non-Sikh descendants.


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