Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
May 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Cultural Studies

news3Donations allow UCSC’s unique Sikh and Punjabi studies program to grow

Getting singled out and patted down at American airports is something Nirvikar Singh has come to expect while traveling. Rather than act frustrated, he laughs good-naturedly while discussing it. It’s something many Sikhs have dealt with in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, he explains.

Singh has lived in the United States since 1977 when he moved from his home country of India, whose Punjab region birthed the Sikh religion. He wears the customary Sikh turban and beard—characteristics that have led many confused Americans to mistake Sikhs for Muslims or, worse, for members of the Islamist terrorist group behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

“All we can do is try to help other Americans understand who we are. That’s very important, and not just in order to avoid harassment,” Singh says with a patient smile. “There’s a constant struggle now for Sikhs to avoid being profiled, and to protect their civil rights, but there’s a broader desire to be understood and respected for who we are, what our tradition is and what our culture is.”

Singh has been a professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz since 1982, and, in 2011, he added the role of Sarbjit Singh Aurora Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies to his duties—an opportunity that will help him advance the understanding of Sikh and Punjabi culture in academia.

The chair was established through an endowment given in the memory of the donors’ son, for whom the position is named. Although Singh’s field is economics, and the freshly formed program resides in humanities, he accepted the position because he “felt that as a Sikh I owed it to the community to do my best.” His first undertaking was to create a course—“Introduction to the Sikhs”—which was offered for the first time in Fall 2011, and which Singh donated his time to teach.

Sikh and Punjabi studies is somewhat of a rarity in American academics, and most programs—including those at UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, Hofstra University and the University of Michigan, where there are also endowed chairs—focus on religion. Singh’s approach is one-of-a-kind, spanning culture, music, history, religion and, fittingly, economics. “There are a lot of economic angles one can explore, whether it’s the economy of Punjab, or Sikh entrepreneurs in the United States,” he says.

However, the class, which Singh looks forward to teaching again next fall, largely became an examination of what it means to be a minority culture in a broader society. About half of the class’ 35 students were of Sikh heritage, and the other half was mostly comprised of students from other ethnic minorities. “One of the interesting aspects was discussing how minorities fit into modern America and what it means to be a pluralistic, multicultural, or global society,” he says.

In November, UCSC hosted a conference, “Sikh and Punjabi Studies: Achievements and New Directions,” that drew leading scholars from North America and England, as well as many students and community members. “It was a really good conversation about Sikh studies,” Singh says, noting that UCSC has potential to become a hub for the field.

This month, the program received another boost in form of a $247,000 donation from The Guru Nanak Heritage Fund for Sikh and Punjabi Studies. The gift was an effort of the broader Bay Area Sikh and Punjabi community, which, for Singh, makes it “exceptionally meaningful.” He and UCSC humanities dean William Ladusaw, who has been instrumental in molding the program, plan to use the donation to create a Punjabi language course.

“Without knowledge of language, one can only access things, in some sense, secondhand,” says Singh. “The Sikh sacred book is written in Punjabi, and there is a lot of other literature in Punjabi. The language is a doorway to the heritage, to the culture, [and] to these unique teachings.”

If all goes as planned, the class will be up and running in time for the 2012 summer session, when it will be offered at a satellite site in the Bay Area. This, along with the fact that summer courses are open to non-UCSC students, would increase access for the broader Sikh community. (While Santa Cruz is home to very few Sikhs, the Bay Area is home to thousands, evidenced by San Jose laying claim to the largest Sikh gurdwara—akin to a church or temple—in North America.)

“There are very few Punjabi language programs in the U.S. and most, if not all, are taught during the regular academic year,” explains Singh. “So we’d be able to create a program that would complement what is already available in the country, and really serve as a national resource.”

The program’s slow but positive growth contradicts the general climate at UCSC, where budget cuts are threatening courses and departments. “The budget situation is just so horrendous,” says Singh. “The only way we were able to start something new like this was because of the support of the community.”

Singh says the gifts have given UCSC the unique opportunity to plant seeds for better understanding of the Sikh and Punjabi culture at a time when cultural understanding is essential.

“The goal [of the program] is not just to study the Sikhs in isolation, but very much as part of a global community,” he says. “There are some very important issues throughout the world in terms of coping with multiculturalism. The Sikh community provides one interesting doorway into that broader perspective.”

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Flats Bistro

Pizza with an artisan twist comes to Aptos Beach

 

What’s your take on Santa Cruz locals?

Santa Cruz locals are really friendly once you know them. I think a lot of them have a hard time leaving, and I would too. Ryan Carle, Santa Cruz, Biologist

 

Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Enlightened Flavors

Squash & Blossom’s artisanal alternative-flour delights, beet kvass from Cafe Ivéta, and the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival