By SHELLY DHINGRA
Special to SAF
As the Punjabi community continues to grow in the Toronto/GTA, we see more influential public figures of Punjabi descent in the market in almost every industry.
An article published by the Brampton Guardian states that in 2011 Punjabi had become the “dominant immigrant language spoken in Brampton homes”. Brampton is the third largest city in the Greater Toronto Area according to the City of Brampton, with a population of just over 520,000 people and 175 distinct ethnic backgrounds.
It’s without a doubt that the growing Punjabi population has started to dominate markets, especially here in the GTA. A certain pride with that seems to be paving the way for others to achieve their dreams and aspirations in places where Punjabis were once the minority.
“I think the beauty of living here in the GTA and just even in Canada is that the focus isn’t so much on what ethnic group you are from — but there is a certain amount of pride to see a Punjabi face in the mainstream market,” says TV personality Amin Dhillon.
Dhillon is one of many new South Asian faces in the media broadcasting industry promoting the South Asian communities nationwide.
“I have been fortunate that in my job I have interviewed a variety of Punjabi people that are making waves in all mainstream areas such as politics, art, music, television, films, etc. We see Punjabi personalities in a lot of mainstream media like Sportsnet, TSN, CBC, etc who are able to connect the Punjabi community on topics being discussed.
“Take hockey for example. How awesome is it that Punjabis can watch the game and hear commentary in Punjabi? It enables them to get connected without letting barriers of communication get in the way,” Dhillon adds.
Dhillon uses her platform as an opportunity to share and inform those within and outside of the Punjabi community, the importance of cultural diversity, and what Punjabi culture brings to it.
“One of the best things about my job is I get to experience all sorts of holidays and festivities celebrated by everyone. I see the Punjabi community celebrating Chinese New Year, Christmas, etc, and I see the non-Punjabi community coming out to experience special events like Diwali. The magic of Toronto is that everyone gets excited about their special holidays and is eager to share it with everyone.”
Manpreet Singh, owner and founder of Mampster Food Company which has been in operation for over six years, has also leveraged opportunities as a Punjabi-Canadian building and growing his own business here in the GTA.
“The Punjabi community itself has evolved immensely. For the past 28 years I’ve been living in Canada and the GTA, I have seen nothing but growth. Opportunities, they are very much out there. It’s about finding a need and servicing it well.”
Singh also shares how his Punjabi heritage plays a part in the image of his company. “Well, you can’t say that Punjabi culture is the only culture that has influenced the market or the industry, but it is a large player in the overall industry. As for Mampster, I feel the logo definitely has been influenced by my Punjabi heritage… but the products themselves, not as much.”
If you’ve ever bought a product of Mampster Food Company, you would recognize it by its signature pink logo of a male face wearing the traditional Sikh turban which historically is a symbol of spirituality and holiness.
Singh is one of many proud business owners of Punjabi descent here in the GTA and has this to add, “I am proud of being a part of a very vibrant community whose people are branching out into many fields and excelling in whatever they touch.”
Indeed the Punjabi community has been excelling in whatever they touch. One of the many great successes in the GTA is the millions of dollars the community has raised to help fund the Brampton Civic Hospital, in the process gaining international attention, and gaining added recognition and respect in the wider community when a key part of the facility was named Guru Nanak Emergency Services Department.
Bryan Held, board member of the William Osler Health Centre, was quoted in a local website as stating, “Guru Nanak Emergency Services Department is a name that recognizes the size, scope and contributions to our society by the Sikh community living and working in our hospital’s catchment area.” He concludes by saying, “This is a fitting and lasting tribute to the Canadian Sikh and South Asian community. We look forward to a long and healthy relationship with them.”
When speaking with the first generation of Indo-Canadians within the Punjabi community and their thoughts around the prominence of their community within the GTA, some identified the physical presence of the Punjabi culture in their city.
“It’s great to see the Punjabi/Indian community become recognized for their cultural influence,” says Mohammed. “Just having events like IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) or PIFAA (Punjabi International Film Academy Awards) being hosted here in Toronto shows that people are more aware of the culture and its presence within the mainstream western culture.”
Bassi, who has worked and lived in the Greater Toronto Area, is involved with many well known Punjabi artists who have transcended beyond the local scene and into the mainstream markets. Bassi grew up in the GTA and has watched as the community established itself into what it has become today.
“Successful musicians from the Punjabi music scene have made it a mission to collaborate with mainstream artists to create fusion style music,” he shares. “We’ve seen popular Punjabi groups like RDB put out tracks with well-known artists like Snoop Lion, Ludacris, Pitbull and most recently T-Pain.”
RDB (the acronym for Rhythm, Dhol and Bass) is a popular British-Indian group, best known for their blend of traditional Punjabi beats (traditionally known as Bhangra) with western style music. In 2011, one of their members was inducted into the Brampton Walk of Fame, located in Brampton, Ontario.
Bassi hopes that one day Punjabi music grows to become even more popular and adds, “Bhangra has become a style of music that many enjoy and love and its music can be fused with any genre. I hope that eventually it will become more mainstream than it already is.”
With the rise of the Punjabi community not only in Toronto but all around North America, it is evident that Punjabis have made their mark. From the food to the music, media and even our local governments, there has definitely been a movement in our city — and they herald even greater things to come. It is with growth and prosperity along with other communities that will make Toronto the greatest city in the world.