The Sikh Diaspora: Tradition and Change in an Immigrant Community

By Leonard, Karen | Ethnic Studies Review, April 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Sikh Diaspora: Tradition and Change in an Immigrant Community


Leonard, Karen, Ethnic Studies Review


(New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997). 255 pp., $65 cloth.

This is a peculiarly narrow book, although published as part of a series on Asian Americans entitled Reconceptualizing Culture, History, Politics. The title is misleading, at first referring to "the Sikh diaspora," the settlement of India's Punjabi Sikhs throughout the world, but then indicating "an immigrant community" which turns out to be in the U.S., the upstate New York region around the capital, Albany. Angelo wanted to study Sikhs, a highly visible religious Indian sub-group, to see the effect of interaction with American culture on traditional religious values and attitudes. He found 2,694 Asian Indians in the 1990 Albany district census of 777,584 people; only 90-100 of these were Sikhs, he discovered, and he was able to interview only 35 of these. In what sense these 35 interviewees constituted a community or are part of another community is not clear.

The study is limited in many ways. It seems to be a Masters or perhaps a Ph.D. thesis, with the interviews done in 1990. However, the bibliography stops in about 1985, and the few later entries are not actually cited in the text, although they are highly relevant (Margaret Gibson's work on the Yuba City Sikhs, my own on the Punjabi Mexicans). Joan Jensen's book is not cited, nor are edited works on the Sikh diaspora in North America by N.Gerald Barrier and Pashaura Singh, Milton Israel et al, and many other significant recent publications. There is no effort to place the research population in the context of Asian American studies, although current theoretical issues in the field pit a "diasporic perspective" against an easy assumption of acculturation. Finally, while Angelo's premise is that Sikh responses would be different from those of other South Asian religious groups, the author makes systematic comparisons with two other "assimilation" studies of predominantly Hindu Indians done about the same time and finds the Sikhs fit the same general pattern (65); he does not investigate this further.

The premises and methodology of this carefully done small-scale questionnaire and interview study are so questionable that it is hard to see any significance in the findings. Angelo posits a straight one-way assimilation process, with the "compelling nature of the host culture's alternative life style" (182) bringing about "small, moderate, or considerable" (93) change or "process" (112) for the immigrants. …

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