Punjabi language classes will now be offered for the first time at all UC campuses

Jakara Movement organizer Jaspreet Kaur speaks in June 2019 at the Merced Union High School District board meeting in su...

The University of California will offer Punjabi-language courses at all of its campuses starting in January, marking the first Punjabi-language curriculum to be taught throughout the UC system.

According to the UC Davis Sikh Cultural Alliance, the system-wide Punjabi classes were made possible through joint contributions from multiple UC campuses such as Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Riverside and Irvine, as well as an Innovative Technology Learning Initiative grant from the UC Office of the President. At UC Davis, which uses the quarter system, virtual classes started Monday for the winter quarter.

“Our communities suffer particularly due to the large language and educational barrier,” said Kavenpreet Bal, a UC Davis senior and coordinator for the SCA. “Parents often choose to teach their children English first to provide sufficient ability to learn and prosper in America ... Many children ... fail to learn Punjabi.”

Course enrollment for Elementary Punjabi filled up within a few hours of opening, according to UC Davis South Asia Studies professor Nicole Ranganath. There are more than 800 Punjabi American students enrolled at UC Davis, Ranganath said, and Punjabi is the third-most commonly spoken language in the Central Valley.

“The launch of Punjabi class this quarter is the culmination of nearly eight years of efforts by generations of students, alumni, community activists, leaders and volunteers,” former UC Davis SCA board member Harfateh Singh wrote on the SCA Facebook page Monday. “It is on all of us to ensure the success of this program ... Let’s aim to create a strong foundation through this program, so we can build upon it and expand it for further learning and research.”

The Elementary Punjabi course is open to anyone, with no prior knowledge of the language required. According to the syllabus description, the class is designed to help students learn how to read and write the Gurmukhi script, as well as become comfortable holding basic conversations in Punjabi.

To practice writing the Gurmukhi script, the class will offer a mobile app students can use to trace characters with their fingers and get feedback on their accuracy. The course will also include lessons on aspects of Punjabi culture, such as family and emotional and physical health.

“It creates a positive precedence for universities, high schools, and institutions across the United States to seriously consider adding Punjabi to their curriculum,” Bal said. “It provides Punjabi students the opportunity to reconnect with their cultural roots.”

This isn’t the first time Punjabi-language courses have been offered at a UC school — UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz already offered various Punjabi-language classes — but it is the first time that every UC campus will guarantee the curriculum.

Punjabi is spoken by about 130 million people worldwide, and California is home to one of the largest Punjabi communities in the world outside of India with about 250,000 Punjabi Americans as of 2012. Many communities are concentrated in Central Valley cities such as Stockton, Fresno and Yuba City, where many Punjabis first migrated from India to find agricultural jobs.

In the California State University system, Sacramento State is the only campus that offers Punjabi language courses.

“There is a saying in Punjabi: ‘In life, there are three mothers — your birth mother, your mother tongue, and Mother Earth. Each nurtures and sustains you throughout your life,’” Goldy Shergill, a Punjabi community organizer, said in an email. “As a mother of a son attending a UC school, I am very grateful to the UC for keeping our mother tongue alive.”

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