Thursday, March 5, 2015
Making Ethnic Choices, which is a 1994 book written by Professor Karen Isaksen Leonard (UC Irvine, Anthropology), examines the legal, social, cultural and political factors that led to marriages between Punjabi men and Mexican women in the early 20th century.
"In the early twentieth century, men from India's Punjab province came to California to work on the land. The new immigrants had few chances to marry. There were very few marriageable Indian women, and miscegenation laws and racial prejudice limited their ability to find white Americans. Discovering an unexpected compatibility, Punjabis married women of Mexican descent and these alliances inspired others as the men introduced their bachelor friends to the sisters and friends of their wives. These biethnic families developed an identity as "Hindus" but also as Americans. Karen Leonard has related theories linking state policies and ethnicity to those applied at the level of marriage and family life. Using written sources and numerous interviews, she invokes gender, generation, class, religion, language, and the dramatic political changes of the 1940s in South Asia and the United States to show how individual and group perceptions of ethnic identity have changed among Punjabi Mexican Americans in rural California."
The book was featured today in a Washington Post article about these marriages.
"The first marriages between Punjabis and Mexican Americans occurred in the early 1900s, after waves of men from Punjab — a geographic region straddling the Indian-Pakistani border — immigrated to the United States by way of Canada.
Although their numbers were initially small, estimated in the few thousands, the Punjabis, who were mostly Sikh, quickly adapted to life in the farming communities of the United States, particularly in California’s Central and Imperial Valleys. Drawing on their extensive agricultural knowledge, the Punjabis planted troves of peach and prune orchards, which today produce 95 percent of the peaches and 60 percent the prunes that grow in Yuba-Sutter County, an fertile agricultural hub California’s Central Valley."
As both the book and the Washington Post article highlight, these marriages illuminate the intersection of cultural similarities, Asian Exclusion Laws, anti-miscegenation laws and the California Alien Land Law of 1913.