Being Punjabi – The Museum of Surrey

Being Punjabi. What does it mean to you? Speaking the language? Eating Punjabi food? Belonging to the great province of 5 rivers that was haphazardly divided by the infamous Radcliffe line? I hadn’t really thought much about what it means to ‘be Punjabi’ in the context of a first generation Canadian born to Punjabi parents until I was asked to contribute to a new exhibit at the Museum of Surrey – Being Punjabi.

As a long-time resident of Surrey (my family settled here in the early 1980’s after living in Victoria for some years), I couldn’t be prouder to see this exhibit at the Museum of Surrey. I’m going to borrow a few lines from the Museum website to explain the vision behind the exhibit:

The first Punjabis came to Canada in 1897. Today Surrey is home to over 100,000 Punjabis. This exhibit presents a selection of local Punjabi voices using written word, audio recordings, video, artifacts, art and images. Being Punjabi is the first exhibition in Canada to highlight Surrey’s Punjabi community, showcasing stories of both struggle and success. It is meant to begin a conversation.

The exhibition defines Punjabi as anyone whose family of origin is from the Punjabi regions of India and Pakistan.

{So amazing to see these dishes that belonged to my grandmother and traveled with her from Pakistan to India at partition, and eventually ended up in my kitchen here in Surrey on display as part of the exhibit.}

I don’t think words can do justice to how I felt the first time I walked through the doors to this exhibit. My family was originally from what is now called ‘Pakistani Punjab’ and fled as refugees to India during the partition. From there they immigrated to Victoria BC, and eventually settled in Surrey. The three most influential forces in my childhood were my Papa (maternal grandfather) who was illiterate, my Bibi (maternal grandmother) who was very proud of the fact that she went to school until grade 5 and could read and write Punjabi, and my mom who couldn’t speak any English when she immigrated in 1973 so she learned a new language by watching soap operas. Strangely enough, these three influences made me the writer and creator I am today. They gave me the space to grow and explore my skills, and today, there is a text panel written by me on display in this very exhibit, Being Punjabi. 

When you live in Surrey it’s easy to take for granted the access we have to language, religion, food, clothing, and cultural celebrations as Punjabis. It’s not like this every where in the world! We have to recognize and remember that many immigrants who came before us created this access for is. There is an amazing timeline in the Being Punjabi exhibit that shows exactly how the community grew and prospered in this area, and many of the challenges that they faced. That timeline was my favourite part of the exhibit to share with my kids (after my text panel of course!)

I hope you’ll take the time to visit with your family and explore this amazing and unique exhibit. The curation and design team at Museum of Surrey have really gone out of their way to create a very special collection of our history – the history of Punjabis in Surrey.

The Being Punjabi exhibit is on display at the Museum of Surrey until February 2020, but you should go soon, because I know you’ll need to visit more than once to see and read everything!


This post is sponsored by the City of Surrey Heritage Services, but as always, all opinions are my own.


PS: You might also like; My Phulkari Bhag, Planning a Lohri Tablescape, and this personal story about my Bibi


1 Comment

  1. April 8, 2020 / 1:51 pm

    This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic
    post. Also, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.