YUBA CITY, Calif. (KCRA) —
Yuba City named its first Sikh woman as mayor. Preet Didbal, who is Indian- American, was appointed by city council and will be sworn in Dec. 5.
There are other Sikh mayors across the country — Ravi Bhalla was elected earlier this month as mayor in Hoboken, New Jersey. However, Yuba City said Didbal is the first Sikh woman to be elected as mayor in the country.
The Sikh religion was founded 500 years ago in India’s Punjab region and has been in California for more than a century. The Sikh Coalition estimates around 500,000 people who follow the Sikh faith live in the United States.
“Seeing someone that looks like you, that comes from the same faith as you, to be elected in a public office in this country is inspiring and exciting. And it’s definitely moving,” Jaydeep Singh with the Sikh Coalition said. “When Ravi Bhalla was elected in New Jersey, that was the first time I saw someone who looked like me, who was in a public office in the United States of America.”
The Sutter-Yuba region is home to one of the largest Sikh communities in the country. Each year, upwards of 100,000 people fill Yuba City for the annual Sikh Parade — formally known as Nagar Kirtan.
Didbal was elected to Yuba City Council in 2014 and is currently vice mayor. She is the first in her family to graduate from college and has her master’s.
KCRA’s Vicki Gonzalez sat down with Didbal to talk about becoming mayor.
Didbal said her priorities as mayor will involve youth education, homelessness, completing the Fifth Street Bridge project and bridging the gap between the region’s growth and economic development.
Q: You are born and raised in Yuba City. How does it feel to soon become the first Sikh woman elected as mayor?
Didbal: I’m speechless. I honestly am. It’s so humbling.
You talk about the American Dream. And here we are. My parents worked the fields, were labor workers — did the peaches, the prunes. I worked alongside with them — I have three sisters — and we all did. We worked in canneries, graveyard shifts. My parents worked very, very hard to give us the life that we have today. They traveled from India in 1968 and my dad made a statement. He said, ‘We travel to America to give our unborn a good life.’
Q: You began as Sutter County planning commissioner in 2004. Was your family supportive of your political aspirations?
Didbal: I spoke with my dad and his direct response was, “Why not you?”
As an Indian woman, (I’m) not as outspoken … So it was big step.
And he said, “We’ve raised you as if you were our son. Go out and do what you want to do.”
And lo and behold I was appointed. It was such an honor. My daughter was 4 years old at the time, I was a new divorcee, and I would take her to the planning commission meetings with me.
We’ve just been a pack all the way through.
Q: Were your parents always supportive of you breaking the mold?
Didbal: In the early years as a child, that was difficult.
I couldn’t do sports. I wasn’t allowed to do to it because I was a girl. And when I would ask the question “why?,” there were never any solid answers, other than, “It’s the only way I know how to raise you.”
But in the 1990s, there was a rude awakening and he said, “It’s time for me to learn for my kids — and more so for my grandchildren.”
Q: What do you love about Yuba City?
Didbal: I was born here at Fremont Hospital, which no longer exists. It’s a great community to raise children. It’s small, it’s quaint, but it has what we need as far as a good living.
I’m a single parent. I have a daughter who is 18 — now in her first year of college — and I raised her there for those reasons.
Q: How has the Sutter County Sikh community changed since you were a child?
Didbal: There is still very much the tradition that stays strong. I think we are still breaking barriers.
As a council member, I get approached by young women all the time: “How did you do it? How did you talk to your parents? How did you break the barriers?”
Don’t second-guess yourself. If there’s something in your gut telling you to do something, follow your heart.