The year 2012 would mark a milestone for Sikhs in America. In late September, Sikh Americans in California’s central valley region celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Gurdwara in Stockton, California. Recognized as the nation’s first and oldest Sikh house of worship, the Stockton Gurdwara Sahib was founded in 1912, and is associated with significant points in Sikh American history. According to the Stockton Record:
» It has a direct link to Indian independence and was home to the Ghadar (Revolution) Party, which agitated for a free, independent and united India four decades before that status was achieved in 1950. Sikhs describe Stockton as “ground zero for India’s independence struggle.”
» America’s first Punjabi-language newspaper was published by the Ghadar Party and financed by Stockton Sikhs.
» [Bhagat] Singh Thind, a civil rights pioneer and the first Sikh to serve in the U.S. Army (during World War I), was a member of Stockton Gurdwara.
» Starting in 1957, Democrat Dalip Singh Saund served three terms in the House of Representatives. He was the first Asian, Indian and Sikh elected to Congress. Before that, he was secretary of Stockton Gurdwara
The history of this Gurdwara is an inspiring testimony of Sikh American activism and engagement, and the celebration was made more significant given the tragedy in Oak Creek in the month previous, as I wrote at the time:
This year has seen Sikh Americans experience lows and highs, and so the celebrations in Stockton is an opportunity to reflect on where we are 100 years after formally establishing our presence in the United States.
The Centennial commemorations took place in late September and through October, and included:
- 9/22/12: The Sikh Journey to America Conference
- 9/23/12: Sikh History Museum & Library Opening
- 9/30/12: Eastern Sikh Scholars Centennial Conference (Punjabi language)
- 10/13-14/12: Grand Finale Celebration
It wasn’t only the Sikh community that commemorated the event, but the centenary was also formally recognized by the California State Assembly and in US Congress by Representatives Jerry McNerney and Tom McClintock.
I also felt fortunate to attend the festivities during the Grand Finale:
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 milestone would happen to occur at a timely point in our history. It brought our community together to reflect on the path we have walked in this country — where we began, where we’ve been, and in what direction we must proceed. Recognizing the centennial of our first formal establishment also provides Sikh Americans with a history that extends beyond India and weaves into that of the United States — a history that Sikh Americans can claim as their own. It is not likely that any of us will see such a commemoration again in our lifetimes, but we can hope for prosperity ahead for the generations that follow during our second century as Americans. In this spirit, the centennial of the establishment of the Stockton Gurdwara is one of the Top 5 Sikh American Stories of 2012.
You can read all posts on this blog related to the Stockton Gurdwara Sahib Centennial Celebration here.