Oral History Program: Introduction

(Please see results of the program here)

This is an important time for the Punjabi language in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Recent media attention to the language and, most strikingly, the 2011 Canadian national census results, have demonstrated the importance of the language in the region, and in Canada overall.[1] The greater Vancouver/Fraser Valley area has been home to a vibrant Punjabi language literary community since the 1960’s and numerous Punjabi language media sources (print and radio) now exist. Classes in the language are increasingly available at the pre-collegiate and collegiate levels, with a dearth of teachers available to teach. Still, Punjabi language loss continues to be a concern within the Punjabi heritage community of BC, as indicated by the efforts named: members of the Punjabi community discern the loss of the language among youth in Canada, and seek to remedy this.

This is also a moment of opportunity for UBC in its relationship with the Punjabi and Sikh communities of BC. There are large numbers of Punjabi students at UBC, and the University has a long-standing commitment to teaching the language and its literature: Punjabi has been taught here for more than twenty-five years, and the University hosts the most extensive Punjabi language and culture program in North America.

The Punjabi Oral History project was founded to address the need for support for Punjabi language in British Columbia, and to further develop the growing program in Punjabi Studies at the University. It draws upon and is inspired by activities that have taken place in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley since the late 1960s, when the numbers of Punjabis in BC began to increase significantly and members of the Punjabi community became very active in building their community’s cultural life here.[2] The first literary organization, the Punjabi Literary Association of Vancouver, was founded in 1973, a year after the founding of the Punjabi Cultural Association. [3] It is in honour of this long-standing tradition–and in recognition of its merit and import in the study of Punjabi culture and history overall–that the Punjabi Oral History Program at UBC first focused its attention on cultural production in the Punjabi language in this region. More recently, we have expanded to investigate broader aspects of Punjabi heritage in British Columbia.

The Oral History Program at UBC was enabled in a trial first year (2010-2011) by a grant from UBC’s Centre for Community Engaged Learning (http://www.students.ubc.ca/communitylearning/). In 2012-2013, a generous grant from the Canada India Education Society supported the program again. In following years we have continued to develop the program, and in the fall term of the 2015-6 academic year offered for the first time a new fourth year seminar entitled ASIA 475 “Documenting Punjabi Canada” that allowed students to undertake in-depth oral history interviews on a range of subjects of their choice. The class is also meant to contribute to UBC’s exciting new Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies Program.  To see what we are up to, go to “Oral History Projects” in the menu above.

[1] Kim Bolan “Punjabi fluency now seen as asset in job searches and family relationships” in The Vancouver Sun Saturday February 23, 2008, pg B7; “Punjabi is fourth most spoken language in Canada” February 14, 2008, http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Punjabi-is-fourth-most-spoken-language-in-Canada/272933/ [Accessed October 6, 2008]. “How Punjabi In Canada Became The Third Most Spoken Language” March 1, 2013 http://newseastwest.com/from-1908-to-2013-how-punjabi-became-the-third-most-spoken-language-in-canada/ [Accessed May 7, 2013]; “CENSUS: Immigration altering Canada’s language landscape; Punjabi among most common,” http://www.vancouverdesi.com/news/nridiaspora/census-immigration-altering-canadas-language-landscape-punjabi-among-most-common/330095/ [Accessed May 7, 2013].

[2] Sadhu Binning. “Punjabi-Canadian Literature: Reflections of the Changing Community” in The International Journal of Punjab Studies 13, 1 & 2 (Spring-Fall 2006): 279-285.

[3] Anne Murphy “Modern Punjabi Literature in Vancouver: A Portrait” in Sikh Formations: Religion Culture Theory (December 2008).