Students, residents fight back for Punjabi language at US high school

Advocates for the classes say Punjabi is the third most spoken language in Livingston, behind Spanish and English. The high school is one of 10 in the country that offer the program, many of which are in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

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Jakarta Movement organizer Jaspreet Kaur (left) and speaks on Mandeep Singh of Livingston speak at the Merced Union High School District board meeting in support of the Punjabi language classes at Livingston High School. – Photo: Thaddeus Miller Tmiller / Mercedsunstar.com

By Thaddeus Miller | UNITED STATES |

Students and parents in Livingston, where about 20 percent of the residents are Sikh Punjabi, said they felt blindsided recently by a decision from high school leaders to end the Punjabi language program.

Livingston High School has offered Punjabi language classes for about nine years and it looked to be in peril this month until a groundswell of support from the community made leaders from the Merced Union High School District change their minds.

Advocates for the classes say Punjabi is the third most spoken language in Livingston, behind Spanish and English. The high school is one of 10 in the country that offer the program, many of which are in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

Language — just like art and history — are important for steeping students in Punjabi culture, advocates say.

“(It’s) not just culture. It’s directly tied to business,” Livingston resident Mandeep Singh said. “Punjabi is the third most spoken language in the Central Valley in the business world. This is not just a class at a high school.”

“They get college credit for it. Kids get to talk to their grandparents, tells stories,” he continued.

The City Council passed a resolution on June 4 to support the cause to save the classes.

Advocates said the classes are only offered to students who are familiar with the language, which adds to the difficulty of filling up its seats. It’s the only program in the Valley that doesn’t offer the language to beginners, the advocates said.

The school board’s meeting room was packed with many more people spilling into the hallway to express their displeasure with losing the class.

The school board saw the writing on the wall and announced they had secured a temporary teacher for the course and it will continue in the new year.

School board President Richard Lopez said the decision to pull the class was made due to a lack of enrollment. There are 25 students enrolled in the class for the new year, officials said.

“We are moving forward in trying to find a certificated instructor for that class,” he said. “We want to keep that language. … We also want to better communicate with our communities if these things are going to be happening in the future.”

“We took this conversation into the Gurdwara, the Sikh temple, and we had a lot of community members show up to this meeting. They were very upset,” community organizer Jaspreet Kaur said. “They were very angry and had no idea (and) that there was zero communication.”

Read the full article, ‘A Merced school district tried to end its Punjabi classes. It didn’t go over very well’ (The Sacremento Bee, 12 June 2019), here.

 

RELATED STORY:

Khalsa Diwan Malaysia briefs Federal minister on Punjabi language challenges (Asia Samachar, 9 Nov 2018)

Punjabi language is 5,500 years old (Asia Samachar, 27 June 2018)

 

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

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