On Saturday evening, I attended the Centennial festivities at the Stockton Gurdwara Sahib in Stockton, California, which, founded in 1912, is considered the first and oldest Gurdwara in the United States. In many ways, for Sikh Americans, this Gurdwara represents our first formal foothold in this country.
Saturday’s event enjoyed a celebratory atmosphere that brought out many local, state and federal politicians and officials, and many of the who’s who within the Sikh American community. During this celebration, it was a special feeling to walk the grounds on which Sikhs first established themselves in this country, and reflect on our history since.
The Centennial celebrations this year included the opening of the Sikh History Museum and Library. The centerpiece of the library is the printing press of the Ghadar Party, a US-based organization of Sikh and Indian Americans founded by Stockton Sikhs in 1913 to promote the independence of India from British rule. Back then, the printing press was used to publish various forms of literature in support of the Ghadar Party’s cause, particularly the publication called “The Ghadar“, which documented and promoted the freedom movement in India.
Looking upon this antique machine, I reflected on the use of the written word by those revolutionaries almost 100 years ago to promote the cause of freedom and independence in India. The first pages that emerged from this machine was the start of our activism in the United States, and a century later, Sikh Americans still turn to the written word for the purposes of advocacy, education and communication. Obviously, we no longer use a hand-cranked printing press, but instead make use of online publishing tools and platforms to communicate our message.
And, beyond the technology behind our written work, the substance has also evolved. While we still advocate about ongoing issues in Punjab and India, much of what Sikhs publish today in this country is a conversation about our rights and freedoms living as Americans. From 1912 to today, from the printing press to the internet, the journey of the last 100 years tells the story of the securing of our place as Sikh Americans.