In order to examine the economic growth of the Sikhs in the San Francisco Bay Area, one has to go to the late fifties and early sixties and take a look at the early arrivals to this country. Who were these pioneers, these free spirits, these young men that came here to carve out a future a new beginning for themselves?
Unlike their earlier counterparts, that came to the California’s around the tum of the century who were mostly unskilled and uneducated. These young men came armed with undergraduate degrees from the Punjab. Their field of studies was varied from arts, economic. Political science, history, mathematic to technical disciplines such as physics and chemistry.
Coming mainly from the Punjab villages, they had heard of the clustering of the earlier arrivals that had brought land around and in Yuba City. It was a natural transplant for these students to land and enroll in Yuba City. These young men were visionaries that saw a brand new horizon and busied themselves to become active participants in this new growth. Working in the fields as hearty farm hands in their spare time and studying hard during study times. These young men came to be admired and respected by the early settlers, who saw in these men a dawn of a new era for Sikhs in this country, through their education they would spread the whole gamit of the American economy and become the second generation pioneers.
So it was then that these men after graduating from Yuba College and serving their inter ship in the fields of Yuba City spread to different engineering Colleges around the state and country to obtain their higher education. Although in different parts of the country their network of communication was quite strong, keeping in contact of what was going on and where and on occasions getting together and sharing information about new industrial developments around the country.
CREATION OF THE SILICON VALLEY
The Santa Clara Valley being located close to Stanford University, San Jose State, Santa Clara University and Berkeley saw itself being positioned to become from being a fertile farmland of apricot and cherry trees to a fertile seeding ground for a new era, the era of high technology,
The Varian brothers had already started and made their mark in the valley, the famous garage shop operation of Hewlett and Packard had become a major instrumentation industry. The defense contractors of Watkins and Johnson had arrived on the scene. But these people were in a technology that was an extension of the existing technology. There was at Fairchild some restless American young men that were itching to bust out into new areas of growth that was to give a new name to the Santa Clara Valley and vault it into world attention and become the backdrop for the economic growth of the Sikhs in the Bay Area, The “SILICON CHIP.”
These young American men all left Fairchild and started their own companies such as Intel, National Semiconductor, and Advanced Micro Devices (A.M.D). Upon seeing this going on some of the entrepreneurial spirits also departed form 1.B.M to form computer base companies at a later stage such as Gene Amdhal Corporation, Allen Shugart to form Shugart which was later sold to Xerox, he later went on to form another successful company Seagate. Another son of Punjab must be mentioned here, Jugi Tandon who formed Tandon Inc.
These young Sikh men who had completed their studies by now, once again looked towards the enterpreneauual free spirits and seeing this massive growth going on in an area where once as students they had picked cherries, their eyes were focused once again on this area. Shunning the safety of state or large corporation jobs they arrived in this area to take part in and contribute their hearty spirits to the valley.
Amongst the pioneer Sikhs to the Silicon Valley there are some names that are a must to be mentioned. Ajit Singh Chattha who became a manager in charge of quality for a silicon manufacturer, Sukhbir Singh Virk who became a Vice President of manufacturing for a Microwave Company called Aertec, Baldev (Billy) Singh Sekhon who became the president of Western Microwave and Bhupinder Singh Baidwan probably was the first computer sales engineer from the subcontinent. These men were to be featured in the San Jose Mercury in the early seventies as a very successful silent minority. This became the source of pride for the Sikhs and the Sikh had now arrived in the Valley.
It must be mentioned here that Baldev Singh Sekhon has his own electronic company, Sukhbir Singh Virk is president of the company where he started as an engineer, Ajit Singh Chattha has moved onto becoming the director of quality for National Semiconductor and Bhupinder Singh Baidwan became director of original equipment manufacturer (O.E.M) sales for Omnitel.
While the growth in the valley has started to spurn, the Sikhs in the North Bay around El Sobrante were penetrating strongly in other areas such as consultants physiology and research. I think it is fair to say that the Sikhs can take pride in either being major contributors or leaders in some of the major technology break through that have come out of area. Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany was one of the founders of the fiber optic and is to this date the for most authority on the subject. Dr. R.K. Janmeja Singh a renowned clinical physicoligst in this area who has published many papers on the subject. One has to recognize great contribution to the field of engineering made by Dr. Jaswant Singh Bhatti, Dr. Sukhminder Singh Bath and Dr. J.P. Singh.
The utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric and Pacific Telephone were not left unexplored amongst the veterans to the Pacific Gas and Electric would be Jarnail Singh Thiara and” Jasmair Singh Sahota later joined by new arrivals from England Hardey Singh Grewal and from Punjab as senior draftsman Sukhbirpal Singh Gill. In the Pacific Telephone the lines were kept on hook and ringing by such able men as Baldve Singh Mahal and Tarbhawan Singh Gill. The Sikhs can also take pride that they have been involved in shaping the lives of many a young men and women. The school systems were covered by Ajaib Singh Sidhu and Jagjit Kaur Sidhu. I think that went one reflects on the education aspect, then Dr. Ranjit Singh Sabharwal’s name is in the forefront a veteran educator clearly the first Sikh in the Bay Area if not California to become a full professor of a California University. Dr. Sabharwal a strong willed and kind hearted soul has helped’shape the lives of many young Sikhs in the area.
With the positioning of the above Sikhs into the area and manning some major and key positions the stage was set for this area with its industrial growth to become a major settling ground for the Sikhs.
MARKET NEED FILLED
By now the area was starting to see the influx of Sikhs and Indians into the Bay Area and of course the need for Indian goods was felt. Until now a quietly trip to Yuba City was quite common to pick up supplies, seeing this as a real need, a young Sikh couple that had just graduated from Berkley with Masters in Business administration saw it fit to fill this need. So it was, that a landmark the “Bazaar of India” was created on University Avenue in Berkeley by Kirpal Singh Khanna and Neelam Kaur Khanna. The shop became a place of not only shopping but as a sort of meeting ground for new arrivals. The smile of Neelam and the joking manner of Kirpal made new arrivals in the area feel at home.
As the Silicon Valley started to grow the tri city (Fremont, Union City and Newark) started to see an influx of Sikhs into the area. A young man arrived from Yuba City with a smile on his face ready to set the world on fire and start something of his own. This young man a civil engineer by. training and working as an inspector for the weights and measures department wanted to serve the growing need of the area by opening an Indian Grocery store in Fremont. Surinderpal Singh tumber had a clear idea on what the name of his store was to be and what its contents was going to be. Even though he was told by many friends and associates that the timing was not right, he had a clear vision about his goals and thus Guru Palace was opened in Fremont and Surindepal in the true spirit of the Sikhs showed his entrepreneurial skills and not only survived but thrived and can be seen behind the counter of his store greeting his patrons personally to this day. As the community grew travel agencies and insurance agencies also came into being.
THE REAL ESTATE ROOM
The mid seventies not only saw the creation of new companies in the area, the increase in the job market brought with it an explosion in the Real Estate market. The Bay Area was going through a colossal growth simultaneously in all its economies and Real Estate probably has never seen this kind of boom anywhere before and perhaps will not see it again. The great California gold rush was once again on. In seeing the Real Estate a place to be, the Sikhs once again left the safety of secure jobs to cast their fate to the wind and put their stamp and seal on the growth of this economy. Bhupinder Singh Dhillon an Industrial Engineer with a master’s in Business Administration from Santa Clara University moved to capture this market. Bhupinder in actuality was no stranger to the Real Estate Industry, even in his College days in Yuba City he was known for his ability to see and negotiate a good deal. This was no surprise to anyone since Bhupinder was well trained in the art of negotiation by seeing his father in action in the law courts of Rajisthan (Sardar Kartar Singh Dhillon is the renowned advocate from Sri Ganganagar). While Dhillon covered the San Jose area a chemical engineer Joginder Singh Sidhu employed with a major chemical firm saw that the Fremont area was growing up. It was no longer going to remain a small community that people pass through but rather would become a center stage for Real Estate and commerce. Upon realizing this he entered the Real Estate market and established Sidhu Realty and the rest is history.
THE SIKH WOMEN
It was not only the Sikh men that were involved in the professional growth of the area. The Sikh women were equally involved amongst the first to be mentioned would be Jagjit Kaur Sidhu who as a trained school teacher took her place in the Bay Area school system. Parminder Kaur Ragi became the first Sikh woman to join the Kaiser Permanente Hospital as a registered nurse working in their emergency room. Also about the same time Barinder Kaur Judge joined a major San Jose Hospital as a floor shift supervisor. The coming years brought many more Sikh professional women to the area amongst them Surjeet Kaur Mahal, Surinder Kaur Sandhu, Triputa Kaur Sachdeva all Medical Doctors, Gurbax Kaur Kahlon a senior economist with the utilities commission, Gurminder Kaur Tumber a trained nutritionistand Manider Kaur Nijjara Dentist.
THE MEDICAL DOCTORS
Up until 1979 large numbers of Sikhs in the area were of the technical engineering background. But as the news of this area’s growth spread so did the news of its inviting weather, friendly atmosphere and increasing population spread. It was only natural that the increase in the population in the Bay Area would necessitate the need for more doctors. Amongst the first to arrive as Anmol Singh Mahal, who, after completing his fellowship in gastroenterology from Stanford saw an opportunity in the Fremont area for his particular subspecialty. At the same time Anmol and his wife Surjeet also a doctor were setting roots in Fremont, another medical couple who had been at Stanford with the Mahals was setting up their practice in the San Jose Area. Harmeet Singh Sachdeva a neurologist and triputa his wife also a doctor were making San Jose their home. The San Jose Physicians were joined by a new arrival Dr. Jagjit Singh Raju and the Mahal’s saw the arrival of Dr. Kashmira Singh Ragi and Dr. Ajitpal Singh Sandhu and his: wife Surinder Kaur Sandhu. So it was then that these people paved the path for others to move to the area. When others came they were given encouragement and guidance by them. Amongst the new arrival being the very resourceful opthomoligist Dr. Sarabjeet Singh Hundal, Dr. Gurcharan Singh Cardiologist and young Dr. Dilbagh Singh Chattha a neurologist.
I suppose no doctor story would be complete without the central player, that being the quite force that solves the writing mysteries OF lie GOCLOTS, fills the prescriptions, this is the task of the pharmacist. This task has been filled by a very able young man Gurpartap “Gary” Singh Basrai, he is not only a pharmacist but also is involved in most civil activities of Fremont and doubles as an adviser to newcomers to the area on the city and its political workings.
These enterprising young men have taken the area by a storm, almost all of them investing in the economy of the area, in its ventures and moving to “serve on policy committees and obtaining the honor of becoming as Anmol Singh Mahal as chief of the medical staff at a local major hospital.
Although busy, often working long hours of the day, the faith of Sewa is very strong, the need to put something back into the community. This can be seen on Sundays at a free clinic started at the Gurdwara of Fremont by Dr. Ajitpal Singh Sandhu who can be seen talking to people in Punjabi and seeing them free of charge. Dr. Maninder Kaur Nijjar a dentist can be seen showing children the ways to healthier oral hygiene.
LAWYERS AND FINANCIERS
There are in this world many races and at one point in the span of time they pick up an association with something or another, the Romans were great rulers, the Mughals great builders, the British great administrators and the Jews great businessmen: But of the Sikhs it is often written that they are great warriors. But what is a warrior, he is one that encompasses all, one who experiences life to the full and excels in its very task. So we really as Sikhs have no bounds, we leave no trades untouched or task incomplete. If we are engaged in the task of engineering, then we are also at home as doctors, we excel as lawyers and financiers. The area can boast of its successful Sikh lawyers the veteran on the north end of the bay in Oakland Mohinder Singh Attorney and in center Naranjan “Jack” Singh Heer and the south bay is covered by the Mann Law Offices, started by the most respected the late Sardar Atma Singh Mann and the tradition is being carried on by his son Mohinder Singh Mann.
The Valley’s growth had brought engineers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals to the area. The Silicon Valley was now becoming a major industrial center an economic center that had already caused some major excitement on Wall Street with its new innovations the new type of executive the hippies of the sixties were now the Hippies of the late seventies and early eighties. There were new stock issues being offered practically every day and venture capital money everywhere funding new startups. The in word of the valley came to be onyx this, tonic that, in fact a complete dictionary could be put together about the new words that came from the valley. To make sense of all of what was happening in the valley gave birth to a new breed of men. These were technical people with a special financial wizadary these men were the Silicon Valley’s Investment Analysts. They were to analyses
the valley and keep a finger on its pulse. The pioneer in this and often quoted in the San Jose Mercury and the San Francisco Chronicle and the prestigious magazine California Business is yet another one of our finest Harinder Singh Kohli. Kohli is vice president of investment with one of San Francisco’s oldest and most respected investment firm Sutro and Company. A sort after person both amongst the Sikh community and amongst his peers.
As the startup fever warmed up in the Valley at all functions and meetings the idea of starting a company ‘was on everyones mind and it became the most talked about subject. But it took a young man from Yale to make this dream of everyone’s into a reality. Inder Mohan Singh a PhD, in computer science from Yale worked for a computer company for a while. On seeing the increased use of computers in industry and the ever increasing data that was being generated he saw the need to link up these computers where one could talk to the other. The era of local area networking had arrived. Inder Mohan along with some other individuals started Exclean. Exclean was set into motion with the drive and vigor of the Sikh spirit by this young man. It has become one of the leaders in the innovated technology of local area networking and has recently gone public trading over the counter exchange on Wall Street.
Seeing the high technology becoming a common place in the doctor’s office two venturesome Sikhs came up with the idea of developing a cardiac monitoring system that could do most of the test in the doctor’s office rather than sending the patient to the hospital. This medical electronic company Vivix Corporation is the brainchild of Jagmohan Singh Sahni and Avtar Singh. The designs are reaching the final stages on their product.
BACK ON THE ROAD
It would not be an exaggeration on one’s part to say that if the Sikhs in North India suddenly decided to leave the transport industry, mainly trucking the whole economy would be hurt if not halted. Their strong commitment to this industry had made the Sikhs the leaders in this tough business. When arriving in this country seeing that majority of the trucking industry was run by major corporations and heavily unionized. Men with experience in the trucking business in Punjab or close association with the trucking families in Punjab started to explore areas to break into the market. They moved slowly first buying an old truck taking local loads or driving only within the state first. Once they had learnt the workings of the industry then like true warriors they made their move. Amongst the first to arrive on the trucking scene in a big way was the Paul Trucking Company of Watsonville, owned and operated by the Tut brothers. A model company ran by the keen business eye of Amarjeet Singh Tut and the operational skills of Pritam Singh Tut. The independent operators amongst the earlier one was Surinder Singh Dhanoa and Harjinder Singh Johal and later arrivals being Rughbir Singh Shergill and Surinder (Shinda) Singh Atwal. Upon obtaining considerable success as independents, the Jagpal brothers also saw it fit to buy existing company. Managed by Tarlochan Singh Jagpal and operated by Gurmail and Manjeet Narinder Singh Bains and his brother Balbir Singh Bains were also amongst the first to grace the Silicon Valley Highways.
It is not uncommon to drive the California freeways and see a truck go by with the Khalsa emblem or to read DEG TEG FATEH on back of a truck or displayed with great pride their support for Khalistan.
LOOKING TO THE: FUTURE:
In the span of last twenty years the Sikhs in the Bay Area have made their mark, and have set their roots in the area, through their faith in their identity as Sikhs and their frontier spirits they have become involved in the life of their chosen country and yet have maintained their strong sense of their religion and rich culture. The time has come to start planning the strategy for tomorrow. This time not as individuals but as a community collectively. We have to start organizing our own Chamber of Commerce, our own core organizations that collectively will steer the economic and the political vehicle in the right direction. We need to learn the power of our own energies and to direct them in the night path. We need to become more coercive, to Join force to become a major voice in the future of not only this area but indeed the State and the Country. It is important that we get involved in local issues for it is through being involved in local issues we will obtain the Opportunity to present the case of our brothers and sisters back in Punjab. Let us not concern ourselves with what they say of us, but rather what they think of us.
Let us work collectively to secure tomorrow for our children. We have set the stage; let us now work to make the performance a success.
While some nations may dream of entering the twenty first century, we have made the commitment to enter it with pride and dignity with our heads high in the true spirit of the Khalsa.