February is Punjabi Language Month in Illinois

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Congressman Raja Krishnamoorth, D-Illinois, the first U.S. Representative of South Asian descent to chair a congressional committee or subcommittee, stands in front of the portrait of Congressman Dalip Singh Saund, D-California, the first Member of Congress of Indian-American and Punjabi descent. (Photo: courtesy Rep. Krishnamoorthi)

In recognition of the contributions of Punjabi speaking residents to the communities of Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker proclaimed the month of February as “Punjabi Language Month” in the state. There are more than 750,000 Punjabi speaking Americans and more than 50,000 Punjabi speaking Illinoisans. Punjabi is considered the 9th most widely spoken language in the world, a press release from Asian Media USA noted.

It is recognized as one of the official languages in India, Pakistan, United Kingdom, and Canada. Besides the above-mentioned countries there is a significant presence of Punjabis in Malaysia, East African countries, U.A.E., New Zealand, and Australia.

International Mother Language Day, February 21, was adopted by the United Nations in 2000. and approved by U.N.E.S.C.O. to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote preservation and protection of all languages.

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The language originated around 7th century in the Punjab region of the undivided India and Pakistan in South Asia and is spoken by more than 113 million people worldwide mainly by the Hindus, Sikhs, Muslim, and Christians with roots from the region.

“Several activities and events to celebrate the Punjabi Language Month have been planned for the Metro Chicago area. Those will be low key events this year due to the ongoing pandemic,” said Parvinder Singh Nanua, president of Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago.

“Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago and the Punjabi speaking Illinoisans are committed to preserving, protecting and sharing their Punjabi language, literature, arts, music, dance, culture, films, festivals and traditions with their fellow Americans,” said Rajinder Singh Mago, Board of Governors, Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago, “Punjabis have received accolades for their valor in World Wars I & II, as a matter of fact the only non-British community to receive the highest number of Victoria Cross medals for their bravery in the battlefield fighting for the allies. Punjabis are proud, adventurous, hospitable people who are fun-loving and take pride in giving to the world delicious Punjabi cuisine,” Mago added.

The first Asian American U.S. Congressman from California named Dalip Singh Saund was a Punjabi. Other well-known Punjabi Americans include Nobel Prize winner in medicine Har Gobind Khorana, Former Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal, Former Governor of South Carolina Nicky Randhawa Haley, U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna. NASA’s first Indian-American  Astronaut Kalpana Chawla was Punjabi, and Narinder Singh Kapani is widely acknowledged as the father of fiber-optics, Vinod Dham ‘Inventor of the Pentium Chip,’  the MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, and many other large farmers in Southern California who grow almonds, raisins, peaches and many other crops, are of Punjabi origin and their ancestors are among the first immigrants from South Asia to immigrate to the U.S. and Canada.

In addition, there are several noteworthy Punjabis in Canada such as Harjit Singh Sajjan former Minister of National Defense of Canada, Anita Anand the current Minister of National Defense of Canada, Jagmeet Singh, leader of New Democratic Party in Canada, and Ujjal Dosanjh the former Governor of British Columbia.

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