Reflections on Oak Creek: Honoring Our History

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

Avani blog picFor a long time I felt as if there was no such thing as a South Asian American, because our history was invisible. Born and raised in California, my home is home to thousands of untold and unknown Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and South Asian American stories.

Avani

Avani Mody
Maryland Outreach Coordinator, AmeriCorps,
SAALT

I spent many of my childhood weekends eating chaat with my family in Berkeley, the stomping ground of some of the first South Asian American radicals and community organizers. My first overnight school trip was to Angel Island, where in the early 20th century, nearly 8,000 South Asians stayed in search of a new American life.  I went to university in the Sacramento Valley, where Punjabi workers built the first North American gurdwara in 1912.  Yet, until very recently I did not know any of this history. I knew nothing of the deeply rooted South Asian American history and culture in the very places I grew up.

Because of 9/11 our community became “visible,” gaining an image in our media and culture. Turbaned men are all terrorists. Brown-skinned people are a threat to national security. There is an immense hate and fear of Muslims that in reality includes South Asians, Middle Easterners and Arab Americans. The terrorist we don’t see pushes a Hindu man in front of the subway in New York City, and he is crushed by the oncoming train. The terrorist we don’t see blindly attacks an elderly Sikh man with a steel rod in front of his gurdwara in Fresno, CA. The terrorist we don’t see burns a mosque to a ground in Joplin, Missouri. After years of invisibility, our community, including the Sikh community is now visible. On August 5, 2012, a terrorist our country now knows of and continues to ignore, saw the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, thought they looked un-American and then decided to attack and kill.

The tragedy at Oak Creek took place, one-hundred years after the first gurdwara was built in our country. After over one hundred years of Sikhs in the U.S., society still struggles to see Sikhs as part of America. Who are Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus? What does it mean to be South Asian American? These are difficult questions to answer for mainstream America, and sometimes even within our own community.

Despite our long history in this country, we are still seen as the people who invaded America on 9/11. The massacre at Oak Creek, Wisconsin was not an isolated incident. It is one of the hundreds of acts of violence and hate committed against our community, in this long aftermath of 9/11. We are a visible community, with invisible stories.

Growing up and feeling as though I had no history or place in this country was emotionally devastating. Even more importantly, the effect of erasing and forgetting our community’s history on American society is outright terrifying. The South Asian American community has come to a point where our invisibility is a threat to our safety. We must combat the ignorance and negative images of us, as terrorist and foreigners, with the real stories of our people. We must learn the Urdu and Punjabi poetry carved on the walls of Angel Island.  We must remember the tragedy at Oak Creek. We must demand that mainstream American society and South Asian American communities alike know our stories. Hopefully our actions will inspire our country to care about our community, because our lives are valuable. Our community has the right to worship and live without fear. While, institutionalized racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, fear and hatred are complex issues that will take an enormous effort to end, remembering our stories and sharing our history is one small step. Each of us can honor the people of the people of Oak Creek in our own way, let’s step up and do it.
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Avani Mody
Maryland Outreach Coordinator, AmeriCorps
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

Reflections on Oak Creek: My Hopes One Year After Oak Creek

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

Kathy blog

One year after the tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, I am reminded about how fragile life is, the strong bonds our communities share and the challenges our communities continue to face.

Kathy Ko Chin

Kathy Ko Chin
President & CEO,
APIAHF

In the aftermath of the Oak Creek tragedy, civil rights and community leaders from across the nation gathered and spoke with a united voice, condemning the horrible violence and calling for action.  I’ll never forget the serene, yet poignant candlelight vigil I attended in front of the White House with Sikh American leaders from the Washington DC area and their allies to commemorate the deaths and loss, but also to look forward for progressive, peaceful action for social justice.

It’s the latter piece—action—that we must think about, now one year later.

To those not directly impacted, Oak Creek may seem like a far off event, of little effect. But to racial and ethnic minorities, communities that have been attacked, chastised, excluded and looked at as “other,” Oak Creek is a symbol of the continuing struggle we all face. We often use the term “senseless” to label violence. But the distinction is particularly painful when the precursor of that violence is hate, driven by xenophobia, treating a community – Sikhs in this case – as outsiders.

Racial and ethnic discrimination is something our community knows all too well. After 9/11, Muslim, Sikh, South Asian and Arab Americans all faced heightened scrutiny, fostered by fear and ignorance. Throughout our complicated history as a nation, no racial group has been spared. African American communities continue to feel the impact the legacy of slavery and civil rights injustices have played. Asian Americans, once barred from coming to the U.S. and denied citizenship due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, were looked at as outsiders and harmful criminals. Native Americans and Latinos feel the pain of colonialism and discrimination under the law to this day.

This thread of injustice fueled by racism, bigotry and hatred is something all of our communities unfortunately share. And while each of our experiences is different, as we’ve come from different countries, settled in the U.S. at different times, or were in America first – the common thread of injustice allows us to empathize with other communities. And so for me, when I think of Oak Creek, I think of my own family. What could have happened to my own loved ones and community?

I hope that on this one year mark, it will compel us to act against these injustices. We need action to improve all of our communities, by making them safer, healthier and more inclusive.  I hope that instead of being overwhelmed by our differences, we become united by the bonds we share.
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Kathy Ko Chin
President & CEO
Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, APIAHF

As president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), Kathy Ko Chin spearheads the organization’s efforts to influence policy, mobilize communities and strengthen organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

Reflections on Oak Creek: Activism Starts At Home, Combating Hate in the Midwest

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

Ami Gandhi

Ami Gandhi
Executive Director,
SAAPRI

Reflecting one year later on the violent attacks on Sikh and Muslim institutions in the Midwest, I am inspired by community members who speak out against injustice not only in public venues but also at their religious institutions, workplaces, and dinner tables. These individuals might not label themselves as “activists,” but their activism in everyday life is crucial to combating hate – not only hate from white supremacists but also from members of our own community.

The Chicago area has been an important site for anti-hate efforts over the past year. The Chicago City Council and Illinois House of Representatives each passed anti-hate resolutions, denouncing hate crimes and hateful political rhetoric. The Chicagoland Inter-Religious Rapid Response Network strengthened relationships between leaders of different faiths. But just as much as we need stronger laws and programs to combat hate, we also need informal dialogue about tolerance and inclusion.

Every day, community members leave their comfort zones and extend a hand to someone outside their known circle. Immediately after the tragic shooting in Oak Creek, many Sikhs in Wisconsin and beyond had the courage to say that violence in any form should be condemned, rather than just distancing themselves from Muslims. In my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, my dad and over 50 others from the town’s Hindu and Jain communities stood in solidarity and prayed with members of the local gurdwaras. In Chicago, Lakhwant Singh Komal made history by sharing a Sikh invocation at the beginning of a city council meeting.

Every day, community members share their personal stories so that we can boldly face past problems and work towards solutions for the future. When introducing Chicago’s anti-hate resolution, Alderman Ameya Pawar talked to his fellow city council members about the “otherness” felt by South Asian Americans, sharing the example of when he was the target of prejudiced comments at a Chicago Cubs game soon after the tragic events of 9/11. Chicago actor Usman Ally also turned a painful experience into an inspirational message. After facing suspicion on the train following the Boston Marathon tragedy, Usman poignantly explained that silence can inadvertently further prejudice, and he urged us to simply speak up when we see injustice.

Single voices speaking out against injustice can be especially powerful when they come together in large numbers. Bloggers expressed outrage and mobilized the community to do the same when the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye newspaper published an inflammatory “turban primer,” which perpetuated harmful stereotypes and profiling. Residents of the 8th Congressional district, the district in Illinois with the highest density of South Asian Americans, voted incumbent Joe Walsh out of office after his remarks on the danger posed by Muslims.

Regardless of our age, profession, or political beliefs, we each can combat intolerance in our everyday lives.  We can have real conversations with our family and friends about our prejudices, fears, and scars from communal divides.  We can speak out against hateful e-mail forwards and social media posts.  We can attend a religious event hosted by someone from another faith.  We can focus on our common ground with other vulnerable communities, instead of pitting ourselves against each other.  We can voice our opinion at the polls.

The South Asian American community has tremendous potential.  And combating hate in our own backyards is a ripe opportunity for progress.
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Ami Gandhi
Executive Director
South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI)

Ami Gandhi is the Executive Director of South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI). SAAPRI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established in 2001 to improve the lives of South Asian Americans in the Chicago area, by using research to formulate equitable and socially responsible public policy recommendations. Ami is an attorney who is passionate about serving the South Asian American community and has significant experience advocating for minorities and immigrants

 

Reflections on Oak Creek: In The Name of Progress

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

Joya's blogTheir names were Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh. On August 5, 2012, a lone gunman fatally shot the six people listed above and himself at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. I state their names here because it is important that we remember them as more than just casualties.  It is important that we remember them as people, because the man who shot them did not see them as people.

Joya Ahmad

Joya Ahmad
Student,
Columbia University

He belonged to a number of hate groups and white supremacy organizations that believe America needs to be protected from the threat of brown people and foreigners and Muslims and a whole slew of other “undesirables.”  He is not the only person to think this way.  So it is important, as we reflect on the tragedy of last year, to remember the victims as people. They deserve that respect from us, since they did not receive it from him.

Their names were Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh. They were Sikhs, they were shot in their gurdwara, which was their place of worship, and the men in the group all wore turbans, which are religious head coverings.  I state these facts because their religion was the reason they were killed. After 9/11, a lot of fear and hatred has been directed towards Muslims or those perceived to be Muslims, and many times, Sikh men are among those cases of “mistaken identity.”  After the shooting, many people expressed great sorrow, saying, “But they weren’t even Muslims.” This idea of “mistaken identity” is problematic because it implies that shooting a Muslim is not as bad as shooting a Sikh, when in reality, shooting anybody is a terrible thing. The idea of “mistaken identity” establishes a hierarchy of tragedy and presents a way of thinking that says some people deserve to be profiled and murdered because they “might be terrorists.” I spent a lot of time after the shooting thinking about the way people identify terrorists these days, conflating the term “terrorist” with “Muslim” and often, the term “Muslim” with “any person with brown skin who wears a turban.” It hurts me to know that people in this country have decided that a terrorist practices only one religion and has only one skin tone.  It saddens me that this country has painted a portrait of evil in shades of brown. In reality, a terrorist can practice any religion and have any shade of skin. The perpetrator of the Oak Creek shooting is a perfect example: he was a white man and a Christian and he was also a domestic terrorist. But somehow, nobody is saying that because a white man committed an act of terrorism, all white men are terrorists. Nobody is saying that because a Christian committed an act of terrorism, all people wearing crucifixes ought to be targeted. There is a gross inequality here. There is a lack of education and understanding. There is a prevalence of prejudice here, and all of those things are harmful and dangerous. I take the time to acknowledge the religious backgrounds of the victims because they are important.  Being a Sikh was important to each of them, and it should be important to us too because there is currently no mechanism in place to track hate crimes against Sikhs and there should be.

Their names were Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh.They were Sikhs, they were members of the gurdwara where they were shot, they were parents and children and leaders and friends, and they were humans. They were humans and their lives were cut short because of one man’s hatred.  One year ago and every day since, my heart goes out to them and their families and their loved ones. I have been continuously impressed by the way communities across the country and the world have rallied around the survivors of Oak Creek. There have been incredible shows of solidarity and love. But there have also been incredible shows of ignorance and hatred. So today, one year after six innocent people were murdered in their place of worship, I ask us all to reflect on what we can do moving forward. It is not enough to be angry on our own. It is not enough to think about what needs to change. We must take action.  We must create change. We must demand the justice that we deserve.  In the name of progress, we must refuse to back down. In the names of Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh, we must create a better world.
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Joya Ahmad
Student
Columbia University

Joya Ahmad is a biomedical engineering and pre-med student at Columbia University.  A lover of neuroscience, proud Bangladeshi woman, and avid reader, she hails from Philadelphia, PA, but loves living in New York City.  Her project for the Young Leaders Institute is a student organization at Columbia consisting of a weekly discussion group about power, privilege, and prejudice, as well as monthly community events providing accessible legal information and awareness about bias-based bullying.  She has titled this organization Access Justice and is very excited to get to work this semester.

 

 

Reflections on Oak Creek: We Are One

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

priya kamath

Priya Kamath
Student,
University of Florida

“It’s like we’re a walking hate-crime waiting to happen!” exclaimed my hijab-wearing friend as she walked alongside our Sikh classmate and me.  At the time, I mustered a nervous laugh, but as I reflect on the Oak Creek Massacre, I am disturbed that we are able to laugh off how commonplace hate crimes directed towards our South Asian and Muslim community are.

Since the September 11th terrorist attacks claimed thousands of American lives 12 years ago, xenophobia and Islamophobia have permeated this country.  Intrinsically linked to the September 11th attacks are the hate crimes which manifest this bigotry.  Twelve months ago, six Sikh Americans were gunned down by a U.S. Army veteran while worshipping at the gurdwara.

This tragic result of gun violence isn’t exclusive to members of our community, either.  Just last year, unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot down in his own neighborhood by a racist vigilante.  Trayvon’s murderer defended his actions because Trayvon donned ‘suspicious clothes.’  Akin to Trayvon’s hoodie, a pagh (turban) is considered ‘suspicious’ not only at the airport, but also at workplaces and schools, where adults and children alike face discrimination and harassment.

Beyond enduring the occasional bullying, many Sikhs learn to look over their shoulder while waiting for the subway, driving taxicabs, or worshipping at the gurdwara.  This is because the profiling of our community has proven to be deadly.

I applaud the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s decision to begin tracking hate crimes of not only Muslims, but also Hindus, Sikhs, and Arabs, who are an indelible part of the American fabric.  However, for every step forward, there has been a step backwards.

Recently, the FBI launched a “Faces of Global Terrorism” campaign which featured 16 photos of Muslim terrorists plastered on busses.  The tagline sandwiched between these faces read “Stop a Terrorist. Save Lives.”  While the busses whizzed around Washington state, the only message being sent to passersby is that the face of global terrorism is brown and bearded.

It is my heartbreaking suspicion that the six Sikh American victims of the Oak Creek Massacre will not be the last.  Not until a critical dialogue about race relations is established and maintained.  After the Oak Creek Massacre, media attention turned to focus on the fact that the six victims were not Muslim.  Disturbing rhetoric surrounding this subtly suggested that hate crime violence against the Muslim community would be somehow warranted.

Anti-Muslim sentiment is so widespread that we have come to apply our country’s founding principle of religious freedom selectively.  While acts of violence against Muslims are not explicitly excused, they are expected, and this issue has not been sufficiently addressed.  Rather than stressing the inherent differences between Sikhism and Islam, commentators must address the fact that backlash against any religious group is unacceptable and unjust.

During such difficult times, I find solace in the fact that the South Asian and Muslim community recognize that religious hostility and hate crime violence directed at any faction of our population endangers the well being of our entire community.  More than ever, we realize how imperative it is that we stand as one, indivisible despite outside pressure.  Moreover, the civil liberties of all Americans are compromised when the justice and freedom of one group are challenged.

As I send my thoughts and prayers to those taken from us at Oak Creek and their families, I am reminded of the words etched on a plaque outside that very gurdwara in Wisconsin: We Are One.
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Priya Kamath
Student
University of Florida

Priya Kamath is a rising junior at the University of Florida, where she is studying Economics and Public Health.  Aspiring to bridge the gap between the corporate sector and human rights, she hopes to work reducing health disparities among LGBTQ youth.  Priya has a passion for expanding civil rights and elevating the voices of minorities through public policy and law, and hopes to pursue an MPP/JD after graduation.  This summer, Priya served as a communications intern at the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Reflections on Oak Creek: The Importance of Solidarity in the Face of Race Violence

 This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series with a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post does not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinions of the author.

image for priscilla's excerpt

It is ironic that hate crimes are generic acts. In the mind of the perpetrator, they are specific acts, but in reality, hate crimes are generic attacks against “others”. The tragedy of the attack at Oak Creek one year ago was that Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh were killed, not because of who were they were as individuals, but because they were “others”.  Oak Creek was another in

Priscilla_Ouchida

Priscilla Ouchida
Executive Director,
JACL

a long list of hate crimes against “others”. Today, it is those perceived to be Muslim American. Thirty years ago when Vincent Chin was killed, it was those perceived to be Japanese. To Wade Michael Page, it didn’t matter who he killed as long as his victims fit his concept of the enemy.

For 150 years, AAPIs have struggled to gain acceptance as Americans. That struggle led to the creation of the Japanese American Citizens League in 1929, to the organization of OCA in 1973, and more recently to the birth of SAALT. As new AAPI communities join the growing landscape of Americans, they face many of the same hurdles as early Chinese and Japanese immigrants, and today there are over 30 national AAPI organizations.

Within days of Oak Creek, there was a unified AAPI response to the tragedy. JACL members contributed to funds to provide mental health services. The coalition of NCAPA organizations has held together to push for the expansion of data reporting on hate crimes to include crimes against Sikh, Hindu, and Arab Americans. Individually, each of the organizations has a small voice in a country of over 319 million residents. In collaboration, AAPI groups represent the fastest growing segment of the population. Oak Creek was a reminder of the importance of coalitions, and the first steps were an important emergency response.

Now comes the hard part – a coordinated, long-range program to address a belief that is deeply embedded in the psyche of too many that AAPIs and others of color are something other than American.  The problem is common to all AAPI communities.  Random acts of violence against AAPIs are almost always accompanied by racial epithets.  Bullying is the “canary in the mine” for hate crimes, and coalition efforts need to drill down to what is happening in our schools by demanding further breakdown of data on school bullying.

It is important that the American story of AAPIs become part of the larger landscape.  Today, most history centers on the accomplishments of white males. Sikh Americans have made enormous contributions to the national story.  The work of Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, the father of fiber-optics, or Congressman Dalip Singh Saund should be a part of our American history.  Portrayals of Sikh Americans in network programming should be visible and accurately represented.  As long as stereotypes are perpetrated in the media, it is difficult to counter hate philosophy.

This is not just a challenge for AAPI organizations, but for the broader civil rights community.  It is a call to action.
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Priscilla Ouchida
Executive Director
Japanese American Citizens League, JACL

Priscilla Ouchida is the Executive Director for the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).  She was appointed in 2012, and is the first female to serve in the position.  Ouchida also sits on the Executive Board of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of leading national civil rights organizations.  She is the Vice President of Membership for the National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), and Co-Chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition.

Reflections on Oak Creek: Solidarity In Struggle

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

oak creek cc

On the morning of August 5, 2012, members of the Oak Creek Sikh Temple were preparing for langar, the communal meal common to Sikh culture. The tradition of langar (roughly translated as “Guru’s kitchen”) radiates inclusiveness: the meal is open to all visitors, regardless of background, and often consists of vegetarian dishes in order to accommodate all eating habits.

benjamin jealous

Benjamin Todd Jealous
President & CEO,
NAACP

We cannot know the motivations of the shooter on that fateful morning, or the biases that shaped his worldview. But as we reflect on the meaning of this tragedy one year later, we can choose to focus on what we do know for certain: the beauty of the six victims’ final act on Earth.

Langar is a symbol of all that is right in the Sikh tradition, and all that we should aspire to in this country. The langar table is a place where the traditional boundaries of religion, race and class melt away over good food and conversation. The worshipers at Oak Creek temple sought to offer a safe space for cross-cultural discussion and reflection.

We can work to honor their vision. As our country grows ever more diverse, and our politics ever more divisive, we will face a deep question about our future. Can we truly become the “One Nation” that we claim to be in the Pledge of Allegiance? Or will we let our superficial differences tear us apart? This tragedy seems to give us one answer, but the victims’ actions tell us something else entirely.

The Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib tells us that “the light of God is in all hearts” – just as Christ’s disciples wrote that the Creator “made from one man every nation of mankind” [Acts 17:26-28 ESV], and the Quran urges different tribes to “know one another” [Surat Al-Hujurat 49:13]. Our spiritual traditions remind us that cohesion is the natural state of mankind – even if the most violent acts of man sometimes make us forget that.

Just three weeks after the shooting, on August 26, 2012, the Oak Creek temple held a langar for the entire community. If this small Wisconsin community can open their doors and their hearts after such a breach of security, the rest of us can learn from their example. On this anniversary, take a moment to ask yourself how you can open doors and embrace diversity in your own life.

In our search for answers in politics and religion, we can look for examples of divisiveness, or we can focus on our shared traditions and shared beliefs. Violence will always grab our attention, but love and understanding will sustain us.
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Benjamin Todd Jealous
President & CEO
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP

Reflections on Oak Creek: United We Stand

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series with a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

S.Nadia

Last August, I attended a vigil at a Gurdwara in Hayward, CA in memory of those killed at the shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It was one of the worst hate crimes in recent memory and as a South Asian American, my heart felt heavy as I thought of the close knit families who would now have one less person at the dinner table, one less family member telling stories, one more person whose presence would be missed every day.

S Nadia Hussain Headshot

S. Nadia Hussain
South Asian Political Blogger,
Hyphen Magazine

Yet my mourning ran deeper than this. I grew up as a Muslim American, but as one who did not have much experience with the Sikh community. This changed when I went to Rutgers University in New Jersey, a University and state with a very active Sikh community. As a student leader, I collaborated and became close friends with leaders from the RU Sikhs. I even shared an apartment with members of their national award winning Bhangra team, whose dhol practices drowned out my attempts to study college chemistry. I attended RU Sikh meetings, where I was taught the “5 k’s” or the 5 articles of faith that practicing Sikhs wear at all times. That’s where I received my first kara, a steel bracelet, which I still have and wear to this day.

My activism alongside the Sikh community didn’t begin until after college, when I became involved with groups like SAALT and the Sikh Coalition through my work with the South Asian Women’s organization, Manavi, in New Jersey. I advocated at the New Jersey capitol with leaders like Amardeep Singh, the Co-founder of the Sikh Coalition and activists like Tejpreet Kaur. My activism only expanded when I moved to the Bay Area. I became part of a groundbreaking co-hort of AMEMSA (Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian African) groups that came together to work on issues relating to post 9/11 Anti-Muslim rhetoric. At our convenings we shared our deepest fears and hopes for our communities and worked together on how to address issues relating to civil rights and xenophobia.

When the news hit of the Oak Creek massacre, I felt as if my own community had been directly attacked. I am not Sikh, but years of friendship, activism and camaraderie deeply impacted the way I felt.  This was not just one isolated situation, it was connected to years of attending panels and groups where young men spoke of getting beaten up and getting their turbans pulled off their heads in school, this was advocating with Sikh activists in Washington, DC and watching them, not me, get pulled over by Capitol police because someone had reported that they were “suspicious”.  The attack came a year after two elderly Sikh men were shot and killed while taking a stroll in Sacramento. It came years, more than 10 YEARS after Sikhs were viciously attacked in the days after September 11.  Yet somehow this was different, it was a culmination, it was religiously and racially motivated hate, it was everything my fellow activists and I worked to prevent.

As I made my way to the temple, I felt a strange mix of feelings. I knew that the community would come together in hope and forgiveness. And it did, beyond my expectations. The Gurdwara was filled with people from many different backgrounds that day, white people, brown people, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. They had come out to support this community.

That evening in Hayward, as I stood watching all of those flames lighting up the night, I felt unified with not only everyone there, but with the Sikh communities who were holding similar vigils throughout the country, to my friends back in New Jersey, and to all of my activist friends throughout the country who felt the same sense of lost and frustration. I felt connected to them all. My experiences, activism and love for my friends brought me to that moment, and I believe that the memory of Oak Creek has only brought us closer together as we continue our efforts to end xenophobia against our communities.
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S. Nadia Hussain
South Asian Political Blogger
Hyphen Magazine

S. Nadia Hussain is an activist, writer and poet who has worked on social justice issues impacting South Asian communities for years. She currently works as an advocate for marginalized API communities in the Bay Area. She also serves on the board of NAPAWF (National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum), the board of the California Democratic Party’s API Caucus and is a political blogger for Hyphen magazine.

Reflections on Oak Creek: Fearless and Determined

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

Jasmeet's blog

Growing up in a small town in North Carolina as a child of Indian-born parents, I remember struggling with identity and difference early in life. As a young girl, I remember teachers asking me to decide my race – the choices being only black or white.  I recall being asked why I didn’t go to church and being questioned about my “strange” name. I remember the first time I felt that sinking, anxious feeling in my stomach that I later learned was fear – as

jasmeet

Jasmeet Kaur Sidhu
Law & Policy Consultant,
SAALT

a man berated my father for wearing a turban while we ate dinner at Pizza Hut. I was so young that I wasn’t even sure how to articulate all of the emotions I was feeling and the questions that they aroused in me. As I grew older, however, I wanted to conquer my fear – to be fearless, to know my rights under the law, to understand how to educate others about my Sikh identity, to celebrate differences and to make a difference.

We always want to protect the people we love – and usually it is our parents who fear for our safety, rather than vice versa. Childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence, a time to be shielded from the harsh realities of life. Children are not supposed to be worried about the safety of their siblings, parents, and communities, especially not on Sunday. Not at a place of worship and not in America. But on August 5, 2012, young boys and girls ran for their lives, hid in small closets, cried out for their parents and realized fear. Not just in Oak Creek, but all across America, Sikh parents held their children a little tighter, and reassured them that they were safe against a backdrop of terror in Wisconsin.

As a mother to two three-year old Sikh girls, I cannot remember a more terrifying feeling. As the news spread we all turned on our televisions, desperate for answers, for some reason for this kind of attack on a community of peace. Did the gunman say anything before he opened fire? Did he know anyone in the community? Why would he carry out such an attack? Just as after Newtown, Aurora and other tragedies earlier that same year, I felt a sense of helplessness and frustration with the violence, hatred and senselessness that was becoming commonplace in our society.

In those moments, I did a lot of soul searching. I think we all did. As a parent, I had to think beyond myself. I had to ask, what do I want for my children? What kind of life do I want them to have? Do I want them to be afraid to go to school, to the movies, to religious service? In Sikhism, there is a concept called Chardi Kala. It means resilience – maintaining strength and spirit – especially in the face of fear and pain. It is something so intrinsic to the fabric of our faith, that I can’t remember a time when my parents didn’t remind me of its value. People find strength in a lot of different ways in the wake of being attacked. In the days following Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, and most recently the death of Trayvon Martin, Americans have struggled to make sense of senseless acts of violence. We have felt helpless when faced with unthinkable and unforeseen tragedy.  But we are not helpless. We can make a difference moving forward. We can chose to remain in Chardi Kala, to focus on how we can transform policies and create lasting change, to bring injustice to light and to unite, without fear but with determination to honor those who lost their lives.

The hate crime and execution of six Sikhs at the Oak Creek Gurdwara led to a Senate hearing on hate violence, just weeks after the incident, and raised awareness of the rise in White Supremacy groups in the United States. Earlier this year, education, community organizing and advocacy efforts of civil rights and faith-based organizations resulted in the FBI adding Sikhs as a category in tracking incidents of hate crimes. And just this week, the End Racial Profiling Act was re-introduced in the House of Representatives, with hopes of eradicating the unjust and dehumanizing effects of profiling on minority communities. Through all of the tragedies that brought us to our knees last year, the bonds of human compassion and the desire to be strong for our children and communities united us in a common goal.

Before Oak Creek, Robbie Parker may have never known Pardeep Kaleka – their paths would never have crossed.  But on August 5th, Mr. Parker – who lost his daughter in the Newtown Massacre – will speak on the one-year anniversary of the Oak Creek Temple Shooting, at the Chardi Kala 6K Memorial Walk. He will help people like Mr. Kaleka  – who lost his father in the Oak Creek shooting  – understand how to move forward in the face of tragedy. In this way a son will gain strength from a father and a father will be able to comfort someone else’s child. We will all be a little closer as Americans, as survivors and as advocates for a better tomorrow.

What do I want for my daughters? I want them to be fearless and determined, to remain in Chardi Kala. I want them to remember Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakesh Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh and Suveg Singh. And to honor their memories by remaining resolute in their right to be Sikhs, to be Americans and to create change.
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Jasmeet Kaur Sidhu
Law and Policy Consultant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

Jasmeet Kaur Sidhu is a Law and Policy Consultant in SAALT’s Washington, DC office.  The current focus of Jasmeet’s work is immigration reform and xenophobia/hate crimes in the United States.  Jasmeet has an Masters of Law (LLM) in International Law and Legal Studies with a focus on Human Rights Law.  She attended law school at the University of North Carolina School of Law and obtained her undergraduate degree in political science and comparative area studies (Middle East and North Africa) from Duke University. 

Before joining SAALT, Jasmeet had extensive experience in the private sector and non-profit world.  Following law school, Jasmeet was a civil litigator at the law firms of K&L Gates and Williams Mullen.  She then went on to join Alliance for Justice (AFJ), where she was Senior Counsel and spearheaded AFJ’s Immigrant Rights Initiative.  Jasmeet was also a legal consultant with GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), working on issues involving bullying and harassment of LGBTI students.  Most recently, while obtaining her LLM, Jasmeet was a Volunteer Attorney with the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First and a Legal Extern with the Child Trafficking Project at the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.