Broadly used, the term ‘Punjabi’ refers to the ethnic group of South Asians who speak the language Punjabi.
They may be followers of various religions like Hinduism, Sikhism or Islam.
Originally the term covered all the people who lived in the Punjab region of the Indian sub-continent but the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 saw the land being divided into two separate countries.
In United States, the number of native Punjabi speakers is estimated to be more than half a million.
Punjabis were among the first South Asians to migrate to United States at the turn of the twentieth century.
According to Lauretta Conklin Frederking’s Economic and Political Integration in Immigrant Neighborhoods: Trajectories of Virtuous and Vicious Cycles (Susquehanna University Press, 2007) the first wave of Punjabi immigrants in United States were primarily men who came without families to work as lumberers and agriculturists and settled mostly in the West Coast particularly California.
The next phase of Punjabi immigration in the second half of the twentieth century saw families joining the first wave immigrants and students arriving to study and work in the US.
While many among the latter population received technical and higher education in their new country, most preferred to be self-employed or work in family-owned businesses to avoid the problems of racial discrimination and intensely competitive corporate culture.
Today in United States the Punjabis are mainly concentrated in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego on the West Coast and Seattle further north.
On the East Coast, the Punjabi population is primarily to be found in cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia and Jacksonville towards the south.
Among other places with strong Punjabi presence are Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans as well as Houston, Dallas, Denver, Oklahoma City and Phoenix in mid-America.
Like all Asian ethnic groups, Punjabis too follow the system of arranged marriages where marital relationships are formed by family elders in keeping with caste and economic considerations.
In fact for the Punjabi Diaspora, the practice has taken on additional complexity as a signifier of loyalty to Punjabi culture.
As a result, any young person marrying outside the Punjabi community is seen as betraying one’s own culture and religion.