Love sometimes shows up in the strangest places. For Canadian hockey, that abode is the Punjabi Indian diaspora, which hails from my own affiliated arena of Punjab in Arctic India. Thanks to Harnarayan Singh, the turbaned-and-bearded Sikh host of the account TV show Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition, the association has affected a abhorrence of bounce and accustomed its adopted country’s civic activity with a hot passion.
The accustomed English adaptation of Hockey Night in Canada has been a must-watch for admirers of the activity aback its TV admission in 1953. But lately, it has been languishing. Singh’s ambrosial new Punjabi version, on the added hand, has been communicable on—and not abandoned amid South Asians. (Punjabi is the emphasis announced in the arctic Indian arena of Punjab, breadth Sikhism was born.)
President Donald Trump and his adolescent clearing restrictionists acquaint that “mass immigration” from “shitholes”—and Punjab would absolutely qualify—poses a blackmail to Western culture. On a cruise to England in 2018, Trump said it was a “shame” that badly apart clearing behavior were alteration the “fabric” of Europe’s culture. In fact, the E.U. admits about as abounding immigrants per capita as the United States does—fewer than bristles per 1,000 bodies in the host country.
Canada admits eight per 1,000. The foreign-born accomplish up over 20 percent of that country’s population, compared to beneath than 14 percent of America’s. And Canadians with South Asian ancestor are projected to hit 9 percent of Canada’s citizenry by 2036. If Trump were right, ice hockey would be on its way out, and cricket, a far added accustomed activity in India, would be antecedent in the Abundant White North. In fact, the adverse is the case. Instead of aggressive this quintessential Canadian institution, immigrants are deepening it at a time aback it needs the help.
To say that hockey is an academy in Canada is an understatement. It is added like a civic religion. Above Prime Minister Stephen Harper already alleged it the abundant “common denominator” that glues the country together. Absolutely bisected of players in the Civic Hockey Alliance (NHL), which admitting the name has teams from both the U.S. and Canada, are Canadian—down from 75 percent in 1980. The United States, a nation of 330 actor people, had about 562,000 registered players in 2017–18, according to the All-embracing Ice Hockey Federation. Canada, a country with one-tenth the U.S. population, had 637,000.
That represents a abatement of about 80,000 from Canada’s 2014–15 peak, a development that has generated a abundant accord of all-overs up north. The capital acumen for the bead is that blue-blooded—or, per bounded parlance, “old stock”—Canadians are developing advisedly about the amount and assurance of the sport.
At aboriginal blush, immigrants who barrage from the Indian subcontinent—many of whom had never apparent snow, let abandoned skated on ice, until they accustomed in Canada—seem like absurd saviors of the game. An added claiming is that this accumulation has tended to see hockey as a white man’s sport, breadth minorities (and women) are not welcome.
Their acumen is not altogether mistaken.
Hockey has been added aggressive to diversifying than some added sports. A decade afterwards Jackie Robinson bankrupt the blush barrier in baseball in 1947, the NHL was still blind on to an breezy no-color policy. It assuredly relented in 1958, accepting the injury-ridden Boston Bruins to recruit Willie O’Ree, a atramentous Canadian player.
It’s adamantine to actually say whether racism is worse in ice hockey than in football or basketball, breadth ancestral and indigenous minorities accept a above presence. But in the NHL, abandoned about 25 out of some 700 absolute players are black, and abandoned four are of Asian descent. The alliance is 93 percent white. Lack of assortment doesn’t necessarily axis from racism, but it can activity abundant clay for it.
Hockey teams are like clashing tribes, and a subset of admirers has apparent itself accommodating to ability for whatever browbeating tactic it can to admission a cerebral advantage over the added side. That can accommodate screaming, and sometimes casting ancestral epithets, at the opposing players. Admirers accept been accustomed to bandy bananas or accomplish monkey calls at atramentous associates of the opposing team. Players, too, lob ancestral blame to get beneath the bark of their opponents. P.K. Subban, one of the NHL’s highest-profile atramentous players, was subjected to a deluge of racist tweets afterwards he denticulate two goals, including the overtime bold winner, adjoin the Boston Bruins in 2014.
In March, an opposing abecedarian confronted Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, a semiprofessional Canadian defenseman, in the amends box and showed him a account of a baboon on his cellphone. Meanwhile, admirers began afflictive Diaby’s adherent and cogent his father, a above able soccer abecedarian from the Ivory Coast, to “go aback home.” Diaby was so affronted that he absolved out midgame. That aforementioned month, an abecedarian alliance playoff in Western New York was canceled afterward a agnate incident.
But racism is arguably an alike bigger botheration at the lower levels. Earlier this year, afterwards two 13-year-old atramentous American players in two altered states were alone subjected to awful publicized taunting, Subban sprang into action. He fabricated a video cogent one of the kids, Ty Cornett, whose parents had told NHL.com they were cerebration about affairs him out of the sport, to “stay strong” and adhere in there. Meanwhile, Subban’s dad accomplished out to the added kid, Divyne Apollon II, and encouraged him to not accord up. “You are not defined by the blush of your skin,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “You are accurate by your potential.”
In his all-embracing 2003 abstraction of racism in the NHL, adept sports anchorman Cecil Harris wrote that every atramentous abecedarian “has had to allowance a claimed action for accepting and respect….Facing corruption that is verbal, concrete or cerebral because of their blush has been an adverse absoluteness for about all of them.”
A added contempo abstraction by Courtney Szto, an abettor assistant in the Academy of Kinesiology and Health at Queen’s University in Ontario, begin that South Asian players in Canadian hockey are consistently subjected to racist treatment. Yet associates of this accumulation are fatigued to the sport, says Szto, a above player, because it makes them feel added Canadian.
This is unusual. As City University of New York sociologist Richard Alba has acicular out, assimilation is not about anticipation of as a amount of volition—something that immigrants affirmatively choose to do. Instead, it’s what happens to newcomers aback they’re “making added plans.” Indian kids anatomy a aftertaste for Big Macs rather than seekh kebabs because their moms can acquisition a McDonald’s far added calmly than a dhaba (Indian roadside restaurant).
But hockey is not a amount of accessibility or an reconsideration for Indo-Canadians, abnormally Punjabis. They are ardent followers of the sport, and not because they can’t accumulate up with cricket. In our active world, they can—and do. But annihilation says “Canadian” to them added than watching a bold at Scotiabank Arena cutting a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
Because of Canada’s clearing policies, South Asians tend to appear from accomplished professions and are amid the country’s bigger earners. Hence, alike admitting they’re new to the country, they generally accept the agency to accept their kids in what can be a cher sport. “They appetite to accord their kids opportunities to absolutely participate in Canadian activity that they didn’t have,” Szto notes.
Until recently, however, South Asian parents didn’t necessarily abutment aggravating to accomplish a career out of the game. As new immigrants, they approved banking aegis aboriginal and foremost and accordingly tended to advance their accouchement into fields breadth the allowance of success were not absolutely so minuscule. In the 2011 Rob Lowe movie Breakaway—the ice-hockey agnate of Bend It Like Beckham—a ascetic Sikh-Canadian dad orders his accomplished son to accord up the activity and booty over the ancestors trucking business.
But these attitudes are alteration amid first- and second-generation South Asian immigrants. And that’s fortuitous, because contrarily the activity may able-bodied accept a dim approaching in a country whose “visible minority” population—which already makes up about a fifth of the country—is growing by 25 percent annually, while the accustomed citizenry is growing at abandoned 4 percent.
The NHL understands this, which is why it launched “Hockey Is for Everyone,” an beat accomplishment aimed at recruiting minorities all over Arctic America. Singh is the campaign’s official ambassador. But his appearance has acceptable done added to beating bottomward cultural barriers and accomplish the activity attainable to South Asians than any accessible campaign.
The aboriginal present the 34-year-old Singh got from a accessory afterwards bearing was a set of Edmonton Oilers mini hockey sticks.
His parents had emigrated from India in 1966 and became agents in Brooks, Alberta, a predominantly white boondocks with a citizenry of 3,000 two hours southeast of Calgary. They are adherent Sikhs and adherent hockey fans, two passions they imparted to him. His sisters were already crazy for the bold aback he was born. Wayne Gretzky, the world’s greatest hockey player, wasn’t aloof a hero in the Singh household. He was a actual god. As a kid, Harnarayan insisted his ancestors bless their hero’s birthday—January 26—by making prasad, a acceptable Indian candied acclimated for religious ceremonies.
Observant Sikhs, who accept in the accustomed accomplishment of God’s creation, don’t acquiesce scissors to blow their hair. The men let their beards breeze and blanket the continued locks on their active in deeply pleated turbans. Confused with Muslims, they accept sometimes faced biased attacks, abnormally afterwards 9/11.
But if Singh’s family’s Sikh ancestry put him at allowance with his aeon growing up, his hockey-loving ancestry created a bond. He says he accomplished at a adolescent age that one way to get his academy accompany to discount his apparent aberancy was by talking hockey. And boy, could he allocution hockey!
Much to the agitation of his father, a algebraic Ph.D., Singh’s calculus abilities were subpar. But his hockey ability was encyclopedic. By the time he was in fourth grade, he was taping apish shows on a cassette recorder in his bedroom. He accomplished his allotment of aggravation and bullying. But soon, “I became accustomed about academy as this hockey-obsessed individual,” he recalled in an account with The Players’ Tribune. “That accustomed me to accomplish accompany aural altered cliques that may not accept contrarily accustomed me.”
Given his allowance of gab and adulation for hockey, it fabricated faculty that he dreamed of a career in sports broadcasting. But for a brown-skinned, barbate kid with a man-bun askance on the top of his head, this seemed added than a little far-fetched.
Still, in 2004, Singh enrolled in broadcasting academy in Calgary’s Mount Royal University. He afterwards became a full-time scriptwriter on The Sports Arrangement (TSN). But he capital to be on air, and that was activity to be a adamantine advertise on TSN in the aboriginal 2000s. So he abdicate and alternate to Calgary, acceptable a bounded accustomed appointment anchorman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which had a charge to diversity. There, he fabricated it a point to allocution hockey with Kelly Hrudey, an analyst on the approved English copy of Hockey Night in Canada, every time he ran into him.
This accepted a adeptness move.
In 2008, CBC absitively to cycle out versions of Hockey Night in Canada in Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, and Inuktitut (an Inuit language) in an accomplishment to accession its abatement viewership. The Punjabi adaptation was the abandoned one that panned out. And that’s at atomic partly because of Singh.
Hrudey’s aide on the show, Marc Crawford, a above drillmaster of the Vancouver Canucks, was decidedly absorbed in ablution a Punjabi edition. He had begin that Punjabis in the greater Vancouver breadth frequently accustomed him, and greeted him enthusiastically, at gas stations and grocery stores. He had additionally apparent Punjabi kids arena brawl hockey in the streets of Surrey, a Vancouver suburb bedeviled by South Asians. He assured that the association had a affection for the sport.
When the Canucks fabricated it to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011, Punjabis captivated accumulation adoration vigils for their achievement and posted bhangra dance tributes on YouTube. “Their activity was unmatched,” Crawford told The New York Times in 2013. “It was as admitting the one affair they absolutely latched on to in the new country was the Canucks.”
When the abstraction for a appearance to serve the association was born, Hrudey recommended Singh for the job of anchor. Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition made its admission in 2008 with a annual of the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup finals.
Singh faced a botheration during the approved season, however: The show, which aired every Saturday, was filmed in Toronto. He was in no position to accord up his full-time gig in Calgary and move there for a part-time one. Yet he did not appetite to canyon up an befalling to allocution hockey on air. So every Friday after assignment for four years, Singh flew into Toronto from Calgary. He taped two shows on Saturday evening, stumbled aback to Toronto’s Pearson airport, slept for a few hours on chairs abutting into a cot, hopped a redeye home, and accustomed aloof in time for Sunday casework at the local gurudawara (Sikh abode of worship) that he had abounding aback he was little.
He didn’t breathe a chat of this to his administration on the show, he now says. He didn’t appetite them to anguish he wouldn’t appearance up and accord the job to some added Sikh dreamer—of whom, of course, there were plenty. He sprang for all his own biking costs.
Singh could accept eased the burden a bit by absence Sunday services, but his acceptance was too important to him. Plus, he had a awesome abhorrence that if he let his career booty precedence, his acceptable luck would run out.
The appearance was an burning hit with South Asians admitting its characterless assembly ethics and cartel budget. Punjabi is the third best broadly announced emphasis in Canada afterwards English and French. (Half a actor bodies in the country name Punjabi as their aboriginal language, with affluence of South Asians speaking it as their additional emphasis and affluence added who can accept it.) But the ability of the show—something that those not from Arctic India can’t absolutely appreciate—is the accurate affectionate of Punjabi that Singh and his adolescent hosts chose to speak. It isn’t the mongrelized, allotment English, allotment Hindi or Urdu argot of urbanized Punjabis. It’s the accurate and evocative colloquial of the Punjabi heartland. Singh’s appearance deploys it in a way that is aweless but not disrespectful, plain-speaking but not hurtful, freewheeling but not coarse.
Punjabis are like the Italians of India. The appearance conveys the exuberant, hard-living, hard-loving spirit that appeals to Punjabis of all stripes, the rustic as able-bodied as the added adult able variety—the closing alike added than the former, perhaps, because they accept a abysmal homesickness for the “real” Punjabi they bethink audition their grandparents speak. But alike abounding South Asians who don’t absolutely accept the emphasis acquisition the afterimage of a turbaned Sikh anchorperson on air in Canada blood-tingling and inspiring.
The botheration with application abandoned authentic Punjabi was that the emphasis does not accept a cant for hockey terms. So the aggregation had to ad-lib one. A hockey bogie became a tikki—a absurd potato pancake. A slapshot was dubbed a chappede shot, amusing Punjabi argot for smacking accession above the face. All of this tickles Indian viewers, which is absolutely the intention. But the added important after-effects of such linguistic adroitness were unintended.
The new argot demystified the bold for earlier Punjabis who didn’t allege English. Suddenly, grandmas in adipose braids and salwars (traditional Indian outfits) were chatting about advantaged teams and admired players with their grandkids. Seven decades ago, when Hockey Night went on TV, Canadian families structured their Saturdays about watching the appearance together. Now, abounding Indo-Canadian families are accomplishing the same. Singh says he’s had endless old Punjabis tearfully acknowledge him for accouterment a bonding acquaintance with their grandchildren that they never absurd they could have.
The appearance absolutely hit its stride aback Rogers Media, buyer of Canada’s Sportsnet One channel, bought the rights for Hockey Night from the NHL in 2013 and put the Punjabi adaptation on Omni Television, a basal cable channel. The CBC is a nonprofit that aims to serve “everyone.” In reality, that agency alleviative alcove programs afterwards ample address like tokens whose capital purpose is advantage signaling a charge to diversity. Admitting the Punjabi show’s popularity, CBC had canceled it added than once, abandoned to accompany it aback afterwards a massive clamor from South Asian viewers.
But as a private, for-profit enterprise, Rogers Media invested assets in Hockey Night Punjabi because it could get barter and advertisers to pay for it. The aggregation has broadcast the show’s aggregation to seven and housed them in a arrant studio, accepting them to shoot in aerial analogue and to aftermath full-spectrum programming that includes pre- and postgame assay in accession to the accepted Saturday night double-header play-by-plays. Singh is now able to accomplish a full-time job out of hosting the program.
The appearance is consistently innovating, creating segments such as “Meri Gal Sun” (“listen to me”)—a burden Punjabi parents use afore auction on contrary kids—that gives underperforming players and teams admonition in a no-holds-barred Punjabi style. One adventure aftermost year brash brilliant Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to accept his accoutrements arranged to bolt at the end of the division because his aggregation aloof wasn’t acceptable abundant for him. Howard didn’t accept (maybe because he doesn’t accept Punjabi!).
Operating in a abreast adjourned alcove market, observes Szto, has accustomed the appearance to claiming acceptable Canadian broadcasting norms that actual abundant reflect the high-WASP aftertaste of the aboriginal public-station audience. Breadth Canadians tend to be reserved, urbane, stoic, Punjabis are earthy, blingy, raucous. Because abounding of Hockey Night Punjabi’s admirers didn’t abound up watching hockey, they accept to be absorbed by “adding masala”—spice mix—as Singh puts it. And the accommodation of this masala? As the Vancouver Sun’s Gordon McIntyre already wrote, the affairs is allotment all-embracing soccer, allotment Bollywood, with “a compression of [World Wrestling Entertainment] and a acceptable dosage of communicable enthusiasm.”
The abutting affair to it in boilerplate hockey is Don Cherry, the allegorical hockey anchorperson who co-hosts the “Coach’s Corner” articulation on the original Hockey Night. He’s a bourgeois who has fabricated a name for himself as the funny and adorable Archie Bunker of hockey—irreverent, politically incorrect, and a tad pompous. But that shtick, which never absolutely formed with South Asians, had amorphous to lose its agreeableness with approved Canadians alike afore Cherry got himself accursed for analytic the bellicism of immigrants on air aftermost fall. Hockey Night Punjabi’s down-to-earth approach, breadth sportscasters allocution to rather than at viewers, is abundant added attuned to the new cultural sensibilities, Szto notes. Sometimes non-Punjabi speakers tune in to the Punjabi show, either because assertive amateur are abandoned airing there or because they don’t affliction for the personalities on the approved network.
As of December 2017, the affairs averaged 209,000 viewers, according to Szto. Compared to the 1.46 actor admirers that the approved English copy of Hockey Night commands, this may assume low. But that 1.46 actor amount represents a massive abatement from the 5 actor admirers the appearance enjoyed at its aiguille in the 1960s. A college allotment of Punjabi speakers watch their adaptation than English-speaking Canadians watch the original. Although Omni does not activity official ratings, Szto says the viewership is growing rapidly.
The moment that catapulted Hockey Night Punjabi out of its indigenous ascendancy came in the aboriginal bold of the 2016 Stanley Cup finals, afterwards the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Nick Bonino denticulate the acceptable goal. Singh went wild, shouting the player’s name 11 times in accelerated assumption and catastrophe with a continued fatigued out “Nick Boninoooooooooooo” that outlasted the buzzer. The alarm went viral and has appear to be admired as one of the best abundant hockey moments. Corporate sponsorships started cloudburst in afterwards that.
When the Penguins won the Cup that year, Singh and his colleagues were advised like bedrock stars, aloof like the players themselves. During the achievement array in Pittsburgh, he was acquiescently arrive onstage to echo the Bonino alarm in advanced of adherent fans. So afflicted were they by the adulation and attention, the Hockey Night Punjabi crew afterwards wrote an affecting acknowledgment letter to the team. “The accuracy is, the associates of our association active in the United States accept faced actual difficult challenges due to their identity,” it said. “Our appointment was the arctic adverse of the acquaintance abounding accept had and this has abounding our association with achievement and optimism.”
Life hasn’t been the aforementioned for the appearance since. The afterward year, during the anniversary surrounding the NHL All-Star Game, Singh and his aggregation were sitting in their berth at a J.W. Marriott in Los Angeles, munching a augment pizza. A man came over to acquaint himself. He and his sons were huge admirers of their work, he said. The man was Wayne Gretzky.
“Right now,” Singh says, “it is boxy to acquisition any hockey fan in Canada who doesn’t apperceive of our show.” But Hockey Night Punjabi hasn’t abandoned developed the admirers for the bold in its community. It has developed the bold too.
David Sax, a Canadian journalist, wrote in The New York Times in 2013 that in the four years aback its inception, the affairs had paid above assets in agreement of recruitment. In big cities bedeviled by South Asians and added “visible minorities,” it was bidding parents to assurance up their kids to apprentice the sport. Brampton Hockey, a inferior alliance in a boondocks arctic of Toronto, had apparent about a 20 percent admission in accord amid South Asians over two years, Sax reported.
That trend has abandoned accelerated. Some 60 to 80 percent of the players in the Surrey Minor Hockey Association, a British Columbian kids league, are Punjabis, addendum Dampy Brar, a co-founder of the 2-year-old APNA Hockey, a hockey academy with branches in Calgary and Edmonton. The organization’s absolute aim is to breeding aptitude in the South Asian community. Although the academy welcomes everyone, says Brar—a baldheaded Sikh who played professionally for the now-defunct West Coast Hockey League—its capital purpose is to activity a adequate amplitude to Indo-Canadians who don’t feel their kids would fit in at the cher hockey academies that aristocratic “old stock” Canadians patronize and that accept commonly served as a activity to the able leagues.
APNA Hockey makes it a point to accept South Asian pros with a aggregate cultural accomplishments coach the kids, in adjustment to accord them the faculty that the accomplished levels of the activity are not above their reach. Some association are anxious that abstracted schools accurately of basic segregation. The bigger way to anticipate about it, though, is that the association is award its own way to affected systemic barriers and admission a boilerplate academy (professional hockey) afterwards the charge for acknowledged interventions or appropriate pleading.
Incidentally, although it is not absurd for practicing Sikh hockey players to being their continued beard beneath a helmet, abounding in actuality do end up shearing it to save themselves the hassle—another archetype of how immigrants, over time, barter old accessories for new means in adjustment to absolutely appropriate the opportunities in their adopted land.
To date, three Punjabi players accept fabricated it to the NHL: Jujhar Khaira, who currently plays for the Edmonton Oilers, and Robin Bawa and Manny Malhotra, both now retired. But accustomed the growing South Asian attendance at the grassroots, Singh and Brar accede it’s abandoned a amount of time afore South Asians breach into the NHL in a big way, injecting new claret into the sport. There are already a fair cardinal of players in the inferior leagues. For example, in 2014 there were three Punjabi players on the Everett Silvertips, a Western Hockey Alliance team, all acquisitive to get drafted by the NHL. Amid them was Khaira, who succeeded.
It’s additionally absolutely aural the branch of achievability that Singh—not admitting his Punjabi affection but because of it—will one day accomplish it to the television big leagues and co-host the English copy of Hockey Night, abutting greats like Ron MacLean and Jim Hughson. He already appears on the appearance consistently as a bedfellow commentator. And he’s been calling amateur for the Sportsnet admission in English—which he of advance speaks with a absolute Canadian accent. (For those abreast in both languages, alert to Singh about-face from Punjabi to Canadian English is like audition an Appalachian about-face from a hillbilly chant to absolute French.)
In fact, addendum Szto, Canadian hockey admirers would eventually embrace accession exotic-looking who knows and foolishly loves the bold than a white dude like George Stroumboulopoulos, whom Rogers Media approved as a co-host of Hockey Night with adverse results. Although he was a above media personality who’d becoming a name for himself VJing for the MuchMusic admission and confined as a CBC allocution appearance host, Stroumboulopoulos didn’t accept a solid hockey background. Ratings took a nosedive as aloof admirers acquainted out, and he was ousted from the appearance afterwards beneath than two years. Afterwards Cherry got the boot, some hockey admirers appropriate replacing him with Singh.
Perhaps racism in hockey is abandoned skin-deep. Admirers booty the bold too actively to absolutely affliction whether sportscasters barber their faces or blanket turbans about their heads. What affairs is the affection of the comedy and of the commentary.
The actuality that a Sikh could be the man for the job is affidavit to the assimilative accommodation of immigrants, who aren’t about the blackmail to built-in ability that restrictionists accomplish them out to be. Of advance they’re cornball for the things they leave behind. But they’re additionally acquisitive to analyze and embrace the new things their adopted homes offer. And aback they do so, they strengthen—not breach apart—a country’s cultural fabric. They braid new strands into it, creating a far richer and added abiding tapestry.
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