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Fresno Sikhs show pride in Punjabi

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    By Vanessa Colón / The Fresno Bee

    Young and old members of the Sikh community celebrated the Punjabi language through poetry and singing at Sunday's fifth annual cultural mela in Kerman.

    Many of them stopped by to show off their talent for the first time, and others looked like veterans who knew how to please the crowd of about 200 people. The Punjabi Sahit Sabha California or the Punjabi Writers Association of California, held the event next to the public library with one of the largest collections of Punjabi literature.

    The library sits across from the Kerman Community Center, where the performances took place.

    A few of the college students, like Baljit Ubhi, looked a bit nervous, but they felt a need to express their work. Ubhi wrote a poem titled "Chuni," or "Scarf." The 23-year-old Fresno City College student composed the poem as way to tell the youths they shouldn't abandon parts of their culture.

    "It's about the scarf and the importance of the scarf. They don't like to wear it any more. They are going with Western culture. ... We are leaving our culture behind," Ubhi said.

    The mela — a Sanskrit word for a get-together — was founded by Gurpreet Dhaliwal, a Fresno County sheriff's deputy, as an opportunity for the community to embrace its culture.

    Tens of thousands of Sikhs live in the Central Valley. The Sikh religion, a monotheistic faith, was founded by Guru Nanak, born in 1469 in what is now Pakistan.

    Sunday's celebration included traditional dances such as the Gidhaa dance performed by girls and the Bhangra, a dance done by boys. A few kids were dressed in shiny white and turquoise outfits waiting to perform. Some audience members munched on pakora, a fried treat made with cauliflower and potatoes, and dipped it in ketchup.

    Older folks distinguished themselves because they tended to wear the traditional bright colored long shirts and loose-fitting pants. The young often wore outfits that blended Western and Indian culture, such as jeans with a long scarf tied loosely around the neck.

    Jagjit Kaur, a 20-year-old who was planning to dance, believes it's hard for the younger generation to retain culture.

    Kaur remembers feeling uneasy when she once wore traditional clothing on the Fresno City College campus. She prefers wearing jeans and only puts on the traditional dress when she enters a temple.

    "I don't feel comfortable. People look at me," Kaur said.

    Sona Bassi Sr., 25, wasn't nervous about singing to a crowd for the first time. Bassi, a Kerman resident wearing a black leather jacket, sang with a crystal clear voice and kicked back and forward in rhythm to the music. He ended his performance to loud applause. Although he was happy with his act, he said he still needs to practice.

    The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6313.

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