Recently, I was in California for a wedding in the family. During the trip I had an opportunity to visit various places like Sacramento, Modesto, Turlock, Atwater and Livingston etc. Where ever I went, the progress made by the Indo-Americans in general and Punjabis in particular was very visible and impressive.
Like Metro Vancouver, Calgary/Edmonton and Metro Toronto, a number of communities in California have made great strides in every field. Be it farming, business, sports, journalism, politics, technology, members of our community are in the forefront. This, in turn, has helped promote the Punjabi language and culture.
Take for example, a relatively small community of Livingston, situated half way between Sacramento and Fresno along Highway 99. Livingston has a population of about 14,000. It has two Gurdwaras. However, there are close to 500 families of Indian-Punjabi heritage. Punjabis own a lot of the farmland around this town. So are a number of businesses.
A relative of mine while driving me around town pointed out that some of the most beautiful homes belong to Punjabis. So are some of the major businesses. He mentioned that not long ago, the mayor of Livingston was a Punjabi. I was pleasantly surprised to see a park near one of the Gurdwaras named as Singh Park.
As Punjabis prosper around the globe so does the Punjabi language.
Speaking of the Punjabi language, it is very encouraging to see Punjabi being offered in Alberta’s schools and post secondary institutions. Like BC, people of Alberta have elected/re-elected a number of Punjabis to their legislature. These include some relatively young people who have been appointed to the cabinet. In this capacity, they can do a lot to promote Punjabi in the province. Calgary and Edmonton have now become major centers of Punjabis in the province. As such, it is a fertile ground for promoting Punjabi language and culture. It has been reported that in addition to various Punjabi classes already under way in Calgary and Edmonton, Punjabi will also be available in two high schools-Lester Pearson and James Fowler Secondary Schools- in September. Now the students and parents of both of these schools need to make an earnest effort in ensuring the success of these classes.
Here it may be appropriate to mention that it takes a lot of effort and time to convince the school authorities to offer Punjabi classes. However, having enough students enrolled in these classes and make them go are a big challenge. This is where the support of the students, parents and the community is crucial. In this regard, Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA Canada) with the co-operation of the Indo-Canadian media has been making every effort in encouraging students and parents to take pride in their mother tongue and enroll wherever the Punjabi classes are offered. In order to make a class viable at least 25 to 30 students are required. Once that number is reached it makes the school officials’ job a lot easier.
It must be emphasized that it takes almost a year to get Punjabi classes under way in any school or post-secondary institution. As such, on behalf of PLEA I would like to urge members of our community to start their efforts as soon as possible. Beginning of a new school year in September is a good time for parents to get together and start the process where they feel will be a good chance of success. At this time there are a number of schools in the Metro Vancouver area where there are a fairly large number of Indo-Canadian students. Those are the places where we should focus our efforts. PLEA would be pleased to assist in this process in any way it can and be an advocate for the community. However, the initiative must come from parents and students.
As a result of PLEA Canada’s efforts during the past 20 years, Punjabi classes are under way in numerous elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions in BC. We are always eager to get Punjabi going wherever there are enough students. This needs co-operation from students, parents, media and the community. Not only that, PLEA has been urging Indo-Canadian businesses to place signage in Punjabi (in addition to English) outside their premises and have their business cards both in Punjabi and English.
Similarly, we should ask for services in Punjabi wherever possible. As a matter of fact, PLEA calls upon all of the lovers and well-wishers of Punjabi to act as its ambassadors. All of us need to work to-gather in creating more pride in our mother tongue. We must keep in mind that Punjabi has now become one of the most prominent languages in the world with 150 million speakers spread out in 161 countries. It is reported to be amongst the top 10 or 12 languages out of a total of 6,900 languages spoken all over the globe. This is something that we can all be proud of.
Balwant Sanghera is the President, Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA Canada).