Photo feature

Forget the tech sector – Indian diaspora has contributed to California’s culture in myriad ways

In the community, there is a rich expression of a culture that crosses boundaries.

In India, Northern California is known mainly for Silicon Valley and the successes of the Indian diaspora in the technology industry. Their contribution, however, goes far beyond that. They have brought Indian culture – inclusive, tolerant, and diverse – into the mainstream.

Northern California is home to some of the oldest Indian diaspora communities in the United States.

Sikhs from Punjab first arrived here in the early 20th century to work on railroads and in agriculture, following migration patterns from Canada along the West Coast. Many settled in Central Valley, the geographical centre of California, first working as labourers and then buying and developing land.

A hundred years on, in Sacramento and surrounding areas, the Sikh community has transitioned into roles in business, politics and the arts. Similarly, the Bay Area – from San Francisco to San Jose – is home to the second largest Indian diaspora community in the US (after New York-New Jersey).

The region’s economy grew with Silicon Valley, attracting engineers and entrepreneurs from India as well as Indian-Americans. While the technology sector is central to the community, there is also a rich expression of culture that crosses boundaries, maintains strong ties with India, and is part of the fabric of Northern California.

Milpitas, California: Learning to dance the cha-cha-cha at the India Community Center.
Milpitas, California: Learning to dance the cha-cha-cha at the India Community Center.
San Francisco, California: Protestors gather outside the Indian Consulate for a vigil to denounce the Supreme Court’s upholding of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making homosexual activity a criminal offence in India.
San Francisco, California: Protestors gather outside the Indian Consulate for a vigil to denounce the Supreme Court’s upholding of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making homosexual activity a criminal offence in India.
Union City, California: Eldo George leads the singing with a speaker attached to his phone, as members of St. Gregoriose Orthodox Church sing Christmas carols in a parishioner’s home.
Union City, California: Eldo George leads the singing with a speaker attached to his phone, as members of St. Gregoriose Orthodox Church sing Christmas carols in a parishioner’s home.
Pleasanton, California: Kids play in bubble rollers at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
Pleasanton, California: Kids play in bubble rollers at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
Lodi, California: Mourners attend the flag-draped coffin of Parminder Singh Shergill, a US Army veteran of the first Gulf War who was shot by the police near his home. Officers claim Shergill, 43, who struggled with mental illness, lunged at them with a knife; witnesses disputed the police account. He was buried with military honours.
Lodi, California: Mourners attend the flag-draped coffin of Parminder Singh Shergill, a US Army veteran of the first Gulf War who was shot by the police near his home. Officers claim Shergill, 43, who struggled with mental illness, lunged at them with a knife; witnesses disputed the police account. He was buried with military honours.
Fremont, California: Seniors gather in a park to celebrate the birthday of one of their group who turned 94. Many live in India and spend summers with their children in California while their grandchildren’s schools are out of session. They return after school starts in the fall and the heat in India has passed.
Fremont, California: Seniors gather in a park to celebrate the birthday of one of their group who turned 94. Many live in India and spend summers with their children in California while their grandchildren’s schools are out of session. They return after school starts in the fall and the heat in India has passed.
Yuba City, California: Karm Bains is a fourth-generation California farmer, who grows peaches, prunes, walnuts, and almonds. His father, Didar Singh Bains, worked on California farms as a day labourer, saving his meagre wages and buying land to become one of the wealthiest peach growers in the nation.
Yuba City, California: Karm Bains is a fourth-generation California farmer, who grows peaches, prunes, walnuts, and almonds. His father, Didar Singh Bains, worked on California farms as a day labourer, saving his meagre wages and buying land to become one of the wealthiest peach growers in the nation.
Santa Cruz, California: On a tour of the US, India’s first female professional surfer Ishita Malaviya spends an afternoon surfing with her partner Tushar Pathiyan (far left) and local surfers. Ishita and Tushar founded the Shaka Surf Club in Manipal, India.
Santa Cruz, California: On a tour of the US, India’s first female professional surfer Ishita Malaviya spends an afternoon surfing with her partner Tushar Pathiyan (far left) and local surfers. Ishita and Tushar founded the Shaka Surf Club in Manipal, India.
Mountain View, California: India-born Jasmine Sandlas films a music video for a medley of two of her songs, one in English, the other in Punjabi, which draw on bhangra and American hip-hop. Ajay Singh, a producer for Diamond Lane records, checks the video monitor. With her success in the US, she moved to India and signed recording contracts with Sony Music and Universal Music.
Mountain View, California: India-born Jasmine Sandlas films a music video for a medley of two of her songs, one in English, the other in Punjabi, which draw on bhangra and American hip-hop. Ajay Singh, a producer for Diamond Lane records, checks the video monitor. With her success in the US, she moved to India and signed recording contracts with Sony Music and Universal Music.
Watsonville, California: Mount Madonna Center, a spiritual retreat founded by Hari Dass, a silent monk who came to the US from India in the early 1970s, celebrates Navratri with daily pujas and the ritual destruction of a 12-meter Ravana.
Watsonville, California: Mount Madonna Center, a spiritual retreat founded by Hari Dass, a silent monk who came to the US from India in the early 1970s, celebrates Navratri with daily pujas and the ritual destruction of a 12-meter Ravana.
San Jose, California: During a rehearsal for a high school musical production of the Ramayana, Hanuman comes to Sita’s aid while she waits alone in Ravana’s garden. Mount Madonna School, which is part of a yoga center and spiritual retreat, has performed the Ramayana annually since 1978.
San Jose, California: During a rehearsal for a high school musical production of the Ramayana, Hanuman comes to Sita’s aid while she waits alone in Ravana’s garden. Mount Madonna School, which is part of a yoga center and spiritual retreat, has performed the Ramayana annually since 1978.
Fremont, California: Jewellery models prepare to take the stage during an awards gala.
Fremont, California: Jewellery models prepare to take the stage during an awards gala.

All photographs by Preston Merchant.

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