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Archivist of California Sikhs: Tejinder Sibia

Tejinder “Ted” Sibia was a meticulous collector of archival material of the painful history of Sikhs in North America, died recently. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): Tejinder Sibia

Tejinder “Ted” Singh Sibia, an unofficial archivist of Indian American pioneers in California, died March 6 in his Sacramento home. He was 70.

“Mr. Sibia devoted himself to sharing the struggles and successes of the Punjabi and Sikh immigrant story and promoting their integration, close associates said,” The Sacramento Bee said in an obituary. “He became an unofficial archivist of the Asian Indian pioneers in California, filling in the blanks of their little-known history with a collection of rare historic photographs and documents compiled on a Web site, www.sikhpioneers.org.”

Sibia was an active member of the Indus Valley American Chamber of Commerce, Koh-e-Nur Club, the museum committee of the Punjabi American Heritage Society, Yuba City, and the Punjab Agricultural University Alumni Association. He was a patron of the Sikh Temple in Sacramento, where he served as librarian and started the seniors club. He is survived by his wife Manjeet K. Sibia, and daughter Kiran Tej Sibia.

His early 20th century photos show turbaned Sikhs working the fields in Yuba and Sutter counties, building the Western Pacific Railroad near Quincy and gathered at newly opened temple in Stockton in 1915.

“We are a very misunderstood community in many ways,” said Dr. Jasbir Kang, a physician in Yuba City, told the Sacramento Bee. “A lot of people don’t know that Sikhs are Asian Indians who have been here over 100 years.”

To share that story, Kang and Sibia designed an exhibit on the history and contributions of Punjabi Americans to California, for a newly built wing at the Sutter County Museum. The exhibit is scheduled to open later this year.

Born in 1937 in Punjab’s Ludhiana, he migrated to the U.S. in 1960. In 2006, he retired as head of research library unit for biology and agriculture at the Shield Library of University of California at Davis.

Behind his librarian duties, he became a mentor for Punjabi students and an ambassador of Punjabi culture, presenting his photo collection and samplings of native dishes at campus forums.
The influence of Sibia’s work went beyond the South Asian community. Isabel Garcia, 73, said, “I hated him to go and leave us profoundly shocked.” Daughter of Memel Singh, a Punjabi pioneer who came to the U.S. in 1906, Isabel Singh Garcia said that “Ted restored our Mexican-Punjabi identity to us and researched on the narratives of the lost race. I am afraid the new generation of Punjabis isn’t interested in us any more.”

At the IVACC monthly meeting held in Elk Grove, Calif., friends of IVACC remembered Sibia, a founding member of IVACC. Dr. Allan Nakanishi, who represents the 10th District of the California State Assembly, paid tribute to Sibia.


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Overstaying Its Welcome: Pakistan’s Military
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EDITORIAL: Artist Nandalal Bose
EXHIBIT: Painting Desi Icons
DIARY: Goodbye India, Hello Ghana
SUBCONTINENT: China: Dark Horse?
HEALTH: Treating Sleep Apnea
TRAVEL: Hwy 1, Northern Calfornia
OBITUARY: Tejinder Sibia
SUBCONTINENT: Makeover for Dharavi
FESTIVAL: Rang Barse!
BUSINESS: News Briefs
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
AUTO: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
BOLLYWOOD: Review: Race
RECIPE: Chinese Bhel
HEALTH: Caring for Your Teeth

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