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Punjabis celebrate being part of the melting pot

Festival mixes homeland with new..

May 25 - The Punjabi American Festival has grown into a prime social event for a nation's worth of immigrants and their children.

But the planners of Sunday's 14th annual festival envision a celebration that does more than entertain.

More than 12,000 visitors — some arriving from as far away as Fresno and Vancouver — were expected to converge on the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds for the festival's collection of musical performances and fair stands, according to the Punjabi American Heritage Society, which sponsors the event.

The audience around the music stage was a constellation of color and bouncing rhythm, bright-hued robes dappling the young women dancing and many of the 2,000-strong crowd below.

But amid the singing, the clothing and jewelry booths and the spiced scents from the food stands, organizers were hopeful the festival would link the old ways from India to the next generation of Punjabi-Americans — many of whom took the stage along with established Punjabi musical stars from India.

"My daughter (Umber) has been performing for eight years," said Tejinder Maan, a society member and festival planner.

"Some of the other girls have been with her every year, and she's 11 now. First they're just singing the songs, but slowly they learn what they mean, and that leads them to ask questions about their culture and to learn about it. That's why we started it. We wanted the children to learn something about their heritage," Maan said.

A quieter corner of the fairgrounds was host to a film festival focusing on the Sikh religion and historic Punjabi figures.

In addition, festival organizers plan to donate $1,100 in proceeds to disaster relief in cyclone-stricken Myanmar, according to Jasbir S. Kang, another Heritage Society member.

At the festival, the mingling of backgrounds showed itself in subtle ways — the red, white and blue bunting around the stage to mark the Memorial Day weekend, or the mix of Sikh turbans and knotted headdresses with jeans and sharp suits among the male spectators.

For Maan, all this merely pointed to a higher goal.

"We'd like to add the rich Punjabi culture to the melting pot of the American mainstream," said Maan. "America's taken a little bit from all the cultures of the world; it's time for Punjabis to contribute too."

-By Howard Yune/Appeal-Democrat

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