Where the Sikh American ‘Peach King’ thrived and seeded a legacy
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 23. I’m Jeong Park, a reporter covering Asian American communities for The Times, coming to you from Mid-City in Los Angeles.
In a little over a month, the largest celebration for the Sikh American community will take place in Yuba City. It’s a town of 70,000 souls in Sutter County, about 40 miles north of Sacramento. But on the first weekend of every November, the population more than doubles as some 100,000 Sikh Americans from all over the country gather for a festival and parade.
Yuba City has become a cultural and political mecca for the community — home to one of the first Sikh mayors and the first female Sikhmayor in the United States. How did that happen? It has a lot to do with Didar Singh Bains, a farmer and a Sikh community leader who started the annual parade in 1980. He died last week at age 84.
“Yuba City is what Yuba City is today because of Didar Singh Bains,” said Kash Gill, Bains’ nephew and the city’s first Sikh mayor when sworn in in 2009.
Bains came to the United States in 1958, leaving a small farming village in Punjab, India, at the age of 18 to follow his father, who had already left for America. He had $8 to his name when he arrived, according to a tribute written by his daughter, Diljit Bains, in UC Davis’ Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive.
Bains worked his way up the state, all the way from the Imperial Valley. He settled in Sutter County, which “reminded him of Punjab” with its rivers (Punjab translates to “The Land of Five Waters”), said Karm Bains, Didar’s son and the Sutter County District 4 supervisor.
By 1962, Didar Bains had bought his first piece of land. By 1978, he had become the largest independent peach farmer in California, and perhaps the world, earning him the title of “Peach King.” He also grew cranberries, raspberries and other crops in 13 different counties throughout California, as well as Washington and British Columbia.
Peaches are notoriously labor-intensive and finicky to grow, but Didar Bains knew how to find the right soil, Karm Bains said. Didar Bains employed hundreds of people, providing a number of Sikh immigrants their first jobs in the U.S. Many of those workers had fled India after 1984, when thousands of Sikhs were massacred in three days of violence.
“When they came to America,” Gill said, “there were only two things they needed to know: Didar Bains and Yuba City.”
Bains became the youngest president of the Stockton Gurdwara Sikh temple in 1965, driven by his strong faith. He raised funds to build a Sikh temple in Yuba City in the 1960s, and he also founded the World Sikh Organization in 1984 to advocate for the community. He donated millions to help build Sikh temples worldwide, and tens of thousands of dollars to help a Wisconsin police officer recover from a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in 2012.
As Sikh Americans were targeted after Sept. 11, Bains and other Sikh leaders organized a meeting with President George W. Bush.
“He wanted to make sure that he could educate everyone on who we are,” Karm Bains said.
Didar Bains emphasized three tenets of the religion, Karm Bains said: living an honest life, thanking God and sharing with those in need.
In Yuba City, Didar Bains’ legacy is everywhere, such as the Wal-Mart and Home Depot he helped bring to the city. The city earlier this year celebrated the groundbreaking of a park named after Bains.
“He had a vision and a mindset of where he wanted the people to be,” Karm Bains said. “I hope this is not the end of an era. Hopefully, it’s just a passing of the torch for the next generation to come.”
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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“Fat Leonard” arrested in Venezuela. Leonard Glenn Francis, the Malaysian defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard,” had fled home arrest in San Diego but was taken into custody after 16 days on the run. Francis had orchestrated the worst bribery and corruption scandal in U.S. Navy history. San Diego Union-Tribune
A fault system along the coast of L.A. and Orange County could trigger a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Known as the Palos Verdes fault zone, the system runs beneath numerous neighborhoods as well as the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. A study says the system is capable of a far more powerful quake than previously thought. Los Angeles Times
Asian American college church network is confronted with claims of spiritual abuse. Gracepoint Church, which started at UC Berkeley, has chapters at more than 60 campuses. But former members say the church has manipulated them into confessing sins and overloaded them with obligations to the point of illness. They say the church effectively restricted dating, media consumption and pet ownership. Christianity Today
L.A.to reopen Section 8 housing vouchers program for the first time in five years. Starting Oct. 17, Angelenos will have two weeks to submit an application online for a chance to be added to a lottery waiting list. The last time Los Angeles opened its Section 8 waiting list was in 2017 — and nearly 188,000 people applied for just 20,000 available vouchers. Los Angeles Times
Hallelujah! The Crenshaw/LAX Line will open (partially) Oct. 7. The 8.5-mile line runs from the Adams District through the heart of historically Black Los Angeles and will eventually offer a path to connect to the Los Angeles Airport and the South Bay. My Facebook group chat of transit nerds all rejoiced upon hearing the news. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
L.A. County will end its mask order on public transit and in airports. The county has been the only one to continue to mandate widespread masking in such settings, although some individual operators, such as the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter rail system, also have such rules in place. The mandate will officially be lifted today. Los Angeles Times
A dispatch from a San Bernardino council meeting. I love David Allen, a columnist for myriad papers in the Inland Empire. This time, he updates us on San Bernardino, from a “giant check” given to improve a park to a proposal to build a Target. When a speaker decried the traffic that a potential Target and shopping center could bring, Allen deadpanned: “To placate him, the city should level a few more buildings, including the school, just to ensure no one in San Bernardino has reason to go anywhere.” San Bernardino Sun
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
Why did it take years for a defendant to be informed of a cop’s racist remark? That’s what Richard Lathan, in prison for murder that he says he didn’t commit, is asking. A detective who helped put him in prison made a racist remark about Black people in 2014, but Lathan wasn’t notified until this summer. Los Angeles Times
Lawsuit alleges a Northern California utility racially profiled Asian communities. The suit filed by the watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation says the Sacramento Municipal Utility District routinely fed customers’ power use information to police without requiring a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing. A police analyst forwarded only Asian-sounding names for more investigation into whether a customer was illegally growing marijuana plants, the suit claims. Associated Press
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
LAUSD schools will get the OD-reversal drug naloxone. The move came after the death of a student at Hollywood’s Bernstein High School who ingested a pill containing fentanyl. She’d bought it from another student. Officials said nine students had overdosed across the district in recent weeks. Naloxone is highly effective at reversing opioid overdoses. Los Angeles Times
Are bumblebees fish? The state Supreme Court says yes, under California’s Endangered Species Act. It could allow a broad range of insects to be considered for endangered species status. Los Angeles Times
Not another heat wave! Unfortunately, yes, as temperatures will climb as high as 106 degrees Sunday through Tuesday in the Los Angeles area and as high as 95 degrees in Central California and the Bay Area. Los Angeles Times
A religious group is objecting to a public access route to beautiful Mossbrae Falls near Mt. Shasta. The Saint Germain Foundation, a secretive religious group that owns land where people often trespass to get to the falls, is concerned that visitors will trash the place. The other illegal way to get to the falls is to hike along train tracks, but two people have been hit by trains while hiking the route since 2011. SFGATE
Take an Amtrak journey from Oakland to Los Angeles. The trip is more than 12 hours long, but a $54 one-way trip is about finding a rare space to unplug. I can testify the journey has some awesome views. Mercury News (May I also recommend traveling from San Francisco to L.A. using only public transportation?)
Hoda Kotb sipping wine on the “Today” show while broadcasting live from Sonoma County? Dunno, I would watch that. Sonoma County Tourism officials say they are working with NBC to bring the morning show to Sonoma County. The Press Democrat
For the Record, 11:35 a.m. Sept. 24, 2022: An earlier version of this newsletter said Yuba City is home to the first Sikh mayor in the U.S. It is home to one of the first Sikh mayors in the U.S.
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Los Angeles: mostly sunny, 88. San Diego: mostly sunny, 81. San Francisco: partly cloudy, 75. San Jose: sunny, 87. Fresno: sunny, 91. Sacramento: sunny, 89.
Today’s California memory is from Richard Buchholz:
I grew up in Louisiana and was 25 when I first visited California. My brother and his girlfriend picked me up at SFO and whisked me to the Oasis Beer Garden in Menlo Park, where we enjoyed the great burgers and guzzled a couple pitchers of beer. The next stop was a hot tub in a friend’s backyard. We soaked naked for what seemed like hours while I savored a cool breeze and ogled the exotic vegetation. For a Baton Rouge kid, it was the best possible introduction to a state I have come to love over the years.
— Richard Buchholz
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