Desis in California – Meet Dave Teja of Yuba City

By • Jul 21st, 2012
Category: Diaspora, Featured, India, Life

Dave Teja of Yuba City. Photo copyright Kamla Bhatt 2012There is a place in Northern California that is home to an interesting mix of people of Indian origin. That place is Sutter county and the town where the early Indians settled is called Yuba City.

By the close of the 19thc a small band of Indians mostly from the Punjab province made their way to the west coast of California lured by stories of vast land and money. That those stories about  vast tracts of land and wealth travelled to Asia is not surprising when you consider that Sutter county was the gateway to the famous “gold rush” of 1849 that drew young people from all over the world, including many from China. By the end of the 19thc when the early Indian immigrants came to this part of the world they came here to farm.

By the early 20thc there was a small community of Punjabis in Yuba City and that is where Gurudev “Dave”  Teja  grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. He became a lawyer and served as Sutter county’s district attorney. He probably was the first person of Indian origin to serve as a district attorney in the US as he pointed prior to recording the interview.

Just like many members of the Indian community Dave automatically recited the name of his father and the  village  his father belonged in Punjab. “My father was Bachan Singh Teja, and he was the son of Inder Singh. He was Jindran (sp?) in Jalandhar district in Punjab.”  Dave’s father traveled by sea via Suez Canal to New York on SS City of Beneras and went to study in Minnesota and Arkansas. In 1931 his father married an American.  ”Mom was of Norwegian ancestry,” says Dave and is quick to point out “Marriages between Anglo women and Indians were banned in California in 1931.”

In this interview Dave describes how his father arrived in the US, and about his grand-uncles who came before his father did. Through his oral recollections Dave paints a vivid portrait of what it was like to live and grown up in the farming community of Sutter County in the 1940s and 1950s, and how he developed his notion of India. Books by John Masters and EM Forster fuelled and sustained his curiosity about the country that his father came from.

This interview was recorded in 2008 in Yuba City. I spent a good part of the day driving around Yuba City and visiting his office and his favorite Indian restaurant while he regaled me with a series of anecdotes and stories and this interview is just a small segment of it.

Dave  passed away in August 2010. He was 71 years old.

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