Have you ever stopped at truck stops on I-40, I-5, I-80 or I-10? Dotted along these corridors are Indian-American-owned businesses catering to truckers. Going East from Los Angeles and Phoenix, even Louisiana, look out for their billboard advertising welcoming truckers and travelers to businesses featuring the words “Bombay,” “Indian” or “Punjabi”.
During the 80s, Punjabi Americans sought asylum as refugees in the U.S. after a New Delhi massacre of Sikhs prompted a mass exodus from India. Sikhs are noticeable by their long hair, beards and turbans and were persecuted in their country. An unknown number call the U.S. home, but many have found a good life in the trucking industry.
Punjabi truck stops are a place for Sikhs to call home while on the long haul. These respites include most of the usual truck store amenities and services with a few extras. Found here are also Temples where inside their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib is present, and preachings of the faiths founder Guru Ganak. Simple vegetarian Indian food restaurants with hot chai tea, while showing Bollywood movies on tv's are comfortable offerings. Some have hotels also.
While shutting down after a long day, the Sikhs truckers mosey inside past rotating racks of merchandise for sale. A selection of U.S. Army wallets, Swiss Brand products, sleep goods are on display, many are from an Indian company. The Punita Group, formed in Sterling, Virginia in the 80s, is a multi-national, Indian owned corporation offering accessories, home goods, and most importantly, trucking parts. In the shadow of the Dulles International Airport, their massive Virginia warehouse serves as a distribution center for tires and brake parts under the Steel Dog brand primarily to the Punjabi truckers. Prateek Sethi and his father have come a long way from their first leather wallet product to providing many recognizable brands through merchandising deals with Flying J and TA among others.
An advisory group called the North American Punjabi Trucking Association developed out of Fresno, California. The organization publishes the Punjabi Trucking magazine and offers discounts on items like insurance and tires. They contribute and participate in policy development that aids and educates the truckers.
Organized, dedicated, and providing all types of businesses, the Sikhs, although small in numbers, are a productive and growing part of trucking in the U.S.