Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize

Sukhmony Brar (2021)

UNEARTHED: The Untold Food Stories of Central Valley Punjabi Women

UNEARTHED is an oral history and community education project that documents, amplifies, and creates community around the diverse narratives of Punjabi immigrant women working in food processing plants across California’s Central Valley. Since the early 1900s, California has been home to a large number of Punjabi immigrants. Today, Punjabi is the third most spoken language in several Central Valley counties and the Punjabi community likely constitutes the second-largest immigrant labor force in the Central Valley agricultural sector; however, the stories of these Punjabi laborers, specifically the stories of Punjabi women laborers, remain disproportionately invisible to the public. Focusing on the Kern, Fresno, and Merced counties, UNEARTHED will first capture and preserve the experiences of Punjabi women currently working as front-line food factory workers. Then, through a series of cooking and storytelling workshops designed for both the Punjabi community and the general public, the project will promote healing, facilitate critical conversations about the current food system, and inspire cross-cultural culinary literacy. With support from the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize, UNEARTHED will be the first project to exist that directly uncovers the complex food stories of Punjabi immigrant women and heightens the public’s understanding of the vital role immigrant women play in the modern U.S. food system.

Biography

Sukhmony Brar was born and raised in the Central Valley of California. As a child, she remembers visiting her maternal grandmother’s raisin farm in Delano and watching rows and rows of grapes sunbathing on blue tarps in the dry heat of summer. However, it wasn’t until high school that she learned about her grandmother’s immigration story; when her grandmother first immigrated to America in the 1970s, she worked long, grueling hours at a meatpacking plant in Fresno in order to provide for her three children. These experiences, along with Sukhmony’s passion for storytelling, community organizing, and food justice, have shaped her commitment to uncovering and uplifting the vibrant, heart-wrenching narratives of Punjabi immigrant women. In the fall of 2020, Sukhmony graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in English and Integrative Biology. At UC Berkeley, she was an editor and staff writer for Berkeley Fiction Review, a research assistant at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and the Chair of the Board of Directors at the Berkeley Student Food Collective. Her ultimate vision for UNEARTHED is to integrate creative storytelling, experiential education, and oral history methodologies to create a stronger framework for understanding and organizing around women’s and workers’ rights in the current food system. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her bike, reading poetry and science fiction, and cooking with her friends and family.

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