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Where EAST meets the Northwest

IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE. Sikhs in America captures Sikh social, family, spiritual, economic, and work life. The documentary looks at a beautiful Sunday service at a gurdwara, a Sikh wedding, the tying of a Sikh turban, and a game of Kabbadi. (Photos courtesy of KVIE Productions)

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #19 (May 6, 2008), page 12.

Sikhs in America examines immigrant experience

Sikhs in America

Directed by Marissa Aroy and Niall McKay

Produced by the KVIE Public Television ViewFinder series

By Ronault L.S. Catalani

Sikhs in America is a program of Sacramento public television broadcaster KVIEís ViewFinder series, scheduled for release this month. This engaging documentary, directed by Filipina-American filmmaker Marissa Aroy together with Irish-American Niall McKay, is broadcast as part of Asian Heritage Month. As with all of KVIEís efforts, this intimate and broad- shouldered documentary inspires, enriches, and educates viewers.

At the center of Sikhs in America, the same geography as Punjabi Americaís center of gravity, is Californiaís verdant Central Valley. From one Sikh familyís kitchen table, from a Sikh fruit farmerís tractor seat, from a suburban Sikh driveway basketball hoop, narrator and NPR journalist Sandip Roy takes us into the personal and wide-angle journeys of this community from Mother India to contemporary America.

The big picture includes the ancient and elegant details of Sikh culture ó a long list of queries that curious observers like me have always been itching but too bashful to ask. Questions about Sikh menís hair and turbans. Concerns about their ritual swords.

At the intimate end, Ms. Aroy and Mr. McKay slip us into quiet conversations about this culturally modest communityís resettlement into our often abbreviated, ordinarily irreverent America.

Says Jaskarn "Jessie" Johal about that first of my many burning questions: "When I start off in the morning, I wake up and I comb my hair. And then I tie it up in a bun called the juda."

In fascinating closeup, with startlingly masculine ease, Jessie continues: "In front of the mirror I adjust it and wrap it around my head, and at the end I use a pin to tuck in my hair from the back. Like a metal rod. Itís called a bodge.

"Ö I continue to have my hair because I feel proud," he says, his eyes like polished obsidian. "It makes me proud because I know that our gurus Ö set guidelines, and I know that Iím following them the best I can. And, Iím representing my religion."

About our bigger, our perhaps more global anxieties about immigrant family ethno-cultural erosion in urban America, Yuba physician and Punjabi American Heritage Society founding board member Jasbir Singh Kang says with reassuring confidence: "... Itís very important not to give up who you are, rather add on more values, learn more cultural things in America ... but you donít have to give up what you brought with you."

"I think the kids will make their own choices," Dr. Kang goes on to say. "I am very optimistic. I am not fearful. I know my kids are not exactly going to be like me. Thatís okay with me ... I donít have a fear of them losing their heritage." Clearly, a disciplined gentleman cultivated in a martial society.

"Sure theyíre American Ö they are going to follow some American traditions," concludes Dr. Kang, "Ö culture is a dynamic process."

For more, for longer and possibly more reassuring dialogue on Punjabi dating and marriage, on Sikh spiritual and cultural practices, watch Marissa Aroy and Niall McKayís fine documentary, or visit the KVIE website at <www.kvie.org/programs/kvie/viewfinder/sikhs_in_america>. Sikhs in America is also available for purchase at <www.kviestore.org>.