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Breaking the glass ceiling

THE ASIAN AGE. | SWATI SHARMA
Published : Jan 14, 2018, 1:21 am IST
Updated : Jan 14, 2018, 1:24 am IST

Preet Didbal recently created history by becoming the first Sikh-American woman to be elected mayor of a US city.

Preet Didbal
 Preet Didbal

Breaking both cultural and gender barriers, I became the first Sikh-American woman to be elected Mayor in the US. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be here but I truly wanted to give back to my community, as clichéd as it may sound. It was 2004 when I first talked to my dad about wanting to be a planning commissioner,” says Preet Didbal, who was sworn in on December 5 as Mayor of Yuba City.  

As a daughter of immigrant parents, she is living the American dream. “I just want to do more and be a more positive role model for our young girls and women. My daughter is now 18 and as a single parent, being a role model is so important. For our community, it’s important that we, as women, know we can and will sit at the table equally with men making policies and decisions that reflect the best interest of the people as a whole, as a community,” says Preet, who was elected to her first term in 2014 after eight years serving on the Yuba City Planning Commission, and two years on Sutter County Planning Commission.  

Preet’s parents immigrated to America from Punjab in 1968. She was born and raised in Yuba City, where her parents settled and took jobs as farm labourers.

Preet’s family is a source of encouragement and empowerment for her. “None of this would be possible without my family, my daughter and my parents. They are my world… they inspire me, give me strength, and have taught me to live life with meaning and contribution. The outpouring of support and love from our Sikh community has been overwhelming. I am so very grateful and honoured… this support is the foundation to our growth and awareness,” says Preet, who was awarded Woman of the Year by Congressman Garamendi in 2015.

She grew up in a family that held rather traditional ideas about gender roles. Her parents’ views on gender changed over time but “it did take a long time.” The 49-year-old explains, “Growing up, I was not allowed to participate in sports but later on, I became very involved and my daughter played sports. She developed her skills so well that she is the first young Indian girl to go on from our community to play collegiate volleyball. She is currently in college playing volleyball as well as on an academic scholarship.” 

With her daughter and mother.Preet with her daughter and mother.

Being the first female immigrant mayor, she is hoping it will provide a visible presence for women to make a difference. “It’s important for women to know and understand we are a force for change and a positive impact in the world we live. We should, and will have a voice at the table,” she says.

Preet is hoping her achievements will inspire other young women to further break through the barriers of gender.  “I think the pressures come when we are not true to ourselves. I went into this to make a positive impact and to do the right thing. It doesn’t mean I will make everyone happy, although I wish I could, I do pray the decisions will always be in the interest of the greater good. At the end of the day, morals, ethics, and integrity will always uphold,” says the powerhouse who worked over 19 years within Yuba State Departments, particularly Department of Corrections, and is currently with the State Compensation Insurance Fund.

Talking about the challenges ahead, Preet says, “We are only at the beginning. We have a long way to go to, ‘walk the talk’ when we speak of breaking barriers both cultural and gender.”

The single mom, whose daughter Arianna began college this year at Willamette University in Oregon, hopes to bring experience, education, and support to many within her community and world over as a mayor. “I believe unity is the key to better understanding, acceptance, and change for the greater good,” says Preet, who is the first Sikh woman to hold the highest elected office in an American city.

Tags: preet didbal, yuba city