Index » History » Immigrants

Sikhs history - Immigrants

Sikhs started immigrating to the United States in 1897. Some Sikhs came straight from India, while others came from the far east, where they had immigrated decades ago. There were thousands of Sikhs living in California and the other western states by the end of the first decade of the 20th century. But the vast majority of them were singles because they couldn't bring their families due to the strict immigration laws. They couldn't buy property and land due to the immigration laws either. So the majority of them either returned to India after a few years, or married women of Mexican ancestry. Early Sikhs mainly worked on agricultural or railroad construction jobs. Some of them worked in mines and lumber mills also. They built their first US Gurdwara in Stockton, California in 1912, which is still in operation today.

Bhagat Singh, was one of the educated Sikhs, who came to study at Berkeley University in 1912. When the announcement was made that anybody who would serve in US Army during first world war , would be given citizenship he joined US Army in 1914. He proudly served during the first world war and was honorably discharged at the end of the war in 1918. But he was denied citizenship because he was not Caucasian. He fought his case in courts and went all the way to US Supreme Court, but ultimately lost. He ended up marrying a local woman and ended up staying here. He did his PhD and worked as a professor. He wrote more than a dozen books in his field of expertise.

Dalip Singh Saund was another Sikh who came to study at Berkeley University. He completed his PhD in Mathematics but couldn't get a job due to the strict immigration laws. He started working in the agricultural fields and ultimately became a successful farmer. When immigration laws changed in 1940s, he got his citizenship. He became a judge in 1950s. He then ran for the US Congress in the 1950s from Riverside county of California and was a US Congressman for 3 consecutive terms.

Immigration of the Sikhs almost stopped after 1915 due to the strict immigration laws. The population of the Sikhs dwindled. There were only few hundred Sikhs living in California at the end of second world war. When the immigration laws changed in 1965, a new wave of Sikhs started coming. Most of them were educated and they got jobs in almost every profession. Wherever they settled, they also built Gurdwaras. There are hundreds of Gurdwaras in the United States today. Some of them joined the US Army and proudly served. The Police forces in New York, Los Angeles, and the California National Guard have turbaned Sikh police officers. Since pioneer Sikhs got jobs in agriculture, they settled in California's central valley. Due to that, 10% of Yuba City's population is Sikh. Sikhs get together on the first Sunday of every November to celebrate the anniversary of the first installation of Guru Granth Sahib Ji. There are an estimated 40 to 50 thousand Sikhs in the parade, which gives a big boost to Yuba City's economy.


Early Sikhs Immigrants and their Role in Nation Building

1906 – Sikh Immigrant track workers1906 – Sikh Immigrant track workers pose for a picture (Photo courtesy Plumas County Museum, Quincy, CA.


1909 – Sikh Workers on the Pacific & Eastern Railroad in Oregon

1909 – Sikh Workers on the Pacific & Eastern Railroad in Oregon (Photo courtesy of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, Medford, Oregon)


1912 Sikh Farm Workers – Sacramento Valley1912 Sikh Farm Workers – Sacramento Valley (Photo Courtesy of The Tide of Turbans: Asian Indians In America by Ronald Takaki)


Bhagat Singh (1892-1967)

Bhagat Singh (1892-1967) (Photo courtesy of the Thind Family) Served in the US Army during 1st World War (1914-18). Honorably discharged from the US army On Dec 16, 1918