Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Sikh Parade

Susan and I attended the Yuba City Sikh Parade today. Yuba City has less than a seventh the population of Sacramento, but it's the nearest city to where we live that has more 50,000 people in it, so in some sense it's "our" city. Despite being quite a small city, it happens to have one of the largest Sikh populations anywhere outside the Punjab region of India - and the Sikh people here have been celebrating that fact with an annual Sikh parade every year since 1979. The parade, and the all-weekend festival leading up to it, commemorates the Sikhs' receipt of their holy text, the Guru Granth Sahib, in 1708. About 85,000 people attended the festival.

Anyway, we loved it. Susan declared it to be her favorite local festival (of the three we've been to). I think I still somewhat prefer the outlandishness of the Bok Kai Parade, but they both have their advantages - and I say that as someone who doesn't even usually much enjoy one of the major attractions of the Sikh Parade: Punjabi food. It was everywhere, and all of it was free. There was no charge to get in, no charge for the food, no charge for anything at all - and the streets were filled for blocks and blocks with people from Sikh temples all over the state handing out free food. Free food in booths set up by Sikh temples from all over the state, and free food from individuals walking down the street and enthusiastically handing it out. Free food of so many different kinds that even I (a picky eater with an aversion to most Indian food) was able to find plenty to eat. I ended up with two orange sodas, a banana, some apple slices with sauce on them, some orange candy in pretzel-like shapes, some naan I shared with Susan, and several pastries I don't know the names of. Susan ate even more than I did - she ate so much she felt sick from it, and still she wished she could eat even more, because it was all so good.

Entertainment-wise, I preferred the Bok Kai Parade; the Sikh Parade certainly didn't have the amusement value of the bizarre floats in the Bok Kai parade (especially the revisionist history float depicting Donner Party survivors mingling with women in Chinese coolie hats). But whereas the Bok Kai Parade left me feeling that I live in a place full of people with amusing delusions (most notably the mass delusion that there's a thriving Chinese-American community in Marysville, which once did have a thriving Chinese community, but chased all the Chinese people out of town in 1886 and has hardly had any Chinese-American people move back since), the Sikh Parade left me feeling that I live in a place full of inspiringly kind people. It wasn't only the free food, or the enthusiasm with which it was shared; it was also the way neither of us saw a single person drop litter on the ground today, as happens continually at most other public festivals. The ground remained clean, and it seemed as if everyone in sight was a model citizen.

Many of the floats, including this first one, were decorated with what we usually think of as Christmas ornaments: spherical tree ornaments, garlands, and even metallic bows of the sort that usually go on top of presents. There's really no reason that any of these should signify Christmas, but it's unusual in the United States to see them in any non-Christmas context.

Susan and I had researched Sikh customs a little online before the parade, and as a result of our reading, I decided to wear the longest skirt I could find, because apparently it's very important in Sikh culture to cover one's legs (though I'm sure that since I'm obviously Caucasian and thus unlikely to be Sikh, I wasn't really expected to know that). The skirt I ended up wearing was not quite ankle-length (although it was significantly below mid-calf), so I still ended up showing more ankle than most of the Sikh women. But I did see one woman in salwar kameez whose salwar were mid-calf-length, so she was showing more of her legs than I was. Therefore, I think I succeeded in dressing reasonably appropriately. (No, I didn't get a picture of her. Or of me.)

Many of the floats were reproductions of the Sikh Temples in the various cities that the floats had been brought from.

This next float says on the left, "Remember 1984," and on the right: "20,000 Butchered in Delhi, 25,000 Made 'Disappeared' in Punjab. A Community Bruised. A Diaspora Tarnished. Still We Rise." There was also a booth with information about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

I don't know why the man in the lower left below appears to be glaring at me (or at least staring intently). I didn't notice him until I looked at the photograph at home.

I think this float below was one of the several that caused Susan to exclaim, "Oh, Sikh disco music!"

The Gurudwara Guru Nanak Parkash Sahib came all the way from Fresno (more than 200 miles south of here), bringing orange juice to give away and a video camera with which to record the parade.

Geet Sangeet Radio came all the way from Watsonville, also more than 200 miles south of here.

This Sacramento Sikh Society float came from my old neighborhood, where I was still living one year ago.

This one is from a different area of Sacramento.

Look, it's Sikh Superman! Complete with a turban and a pendant.

The handmade posters on the side of this float were made by various children, who signed their names at the bottom. The orange poster says: "Guru Nanak Dev Ji: Share their earnings with others who are less fortunate ('Vand Chakna')."

Look, it's the gay Sikh float! No, not really. Just random rainbows on a float from the Sikh temple in Susan's old neighborhood. But we did see plenty of hand-holding between members of the same sex throughout the parade. Not the romantic kind, but rather what appeared to be an elderly father and middle-aged son holding hands, and similar evidently platonic hand-holding between other pairs of middle-aged men and one pair of middle-aged women. It was nice, though, to see people without the typical American terror of being thought to be queer if they ever touch each other in any way.

And to finish this post, another variation on the "Remember 1984" theme - this time with a fake body hanging from a noose, rather than the earlier float with real people holding nooses in front of them.

Tags: photographs
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