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.
**********

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. 

Interview With Shamita Das Dasgupta

Hel­lo, SAALT Spot read­ers! My name is Viraj, and it’s more like­ly you know me as the “Blog Intern”. I am a recent grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign, and I earned my degree in Eng­lish with a minor in Asian Amer­i­can Stud­ies. This past semes­ter, I com­plet­ed a the­sis regard­ing “hon­or” killings. While I will save that dis­cus­sion for (hope­ful­ly) anoth­er time, this research real­ly opened my eyes to domes­tic vio­lence among women of color.

 

     In April, I was lucky enough to meet Shami­ta Das Das­gup­ta, who spoke at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign for the annu­al Bal­go­pal Lec­ture on Human Rights and Asian Amer­i­cans . Dr. Das­gup­ta is the cofounder of Man­avi (New Jer­sey), the first orga­ni­za­tion in the U.S. to focus on vio­lence against South Asian immi­grant women. She is cur­rent­ly teach­ing as an adjunct pro­fes­sor at NYU Law School.

Dr. Das­gup­ta told me that, out of 160 South Asian women sur­veyed in the Unit­ed States:

-35% claim cur­rent male part­ner phys­i­cal­ly abused them at least once

-32.5% claim such abuse has hap­pened with­in the last year
‑19% claim their cur­rent male part­ner has sex­u­al­ly abused them at least once dur­ing their time together
‑15% claim at this abuse hap­pened with­in the past year 
 

While I was­n’t able to attend her actu­al lec­ture (inter­view­ing for grad­u­ate schools demands sac­ri­fices), Dr. Das­gup­ta was gra­cious enough to speak with me the fol­low­ing morn­ing. We spoke about a range of top­ics, from sex­u­al vio­lence among dif­fer­ent socioe­co­nom­ic class­es as well as con­nec­tions with reli­gion and the issues dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of South Asian Amer­i­can women face:

“In the upper class, when a woman is raped out­side of the home, it is assumed that it is because she is expos­ing her­self. Women still feel as if the home is a safe place, and that sex­u­al vio­lence can only occur out­side of the home. On the oth­er hand, the poor­er class­es know that women must trav­el out­side of the home. Also, often­times, their “homes” are shan­ty­towns and are very exposed spaces. The poor­er class­es under­stand that sex­u­al and domes­tic vio­lence can occur any­where. The whole issue is of a woman being iso­lat­ed- upper class­es feel that if a woman is iso­lat­ed, she can­not be harmed.”  


Returning to her work in the United States, Dr. Dasgupta spoke to me about some of the narratives she has heard from the women she has worked with regarding religion and domestic abuse:

“There is this con­cept called sar­wan saha which many peo­ple abide by. The con­cept is often inter­pret­ed as “You’re the one who can change bad men into good men. Your respon­si­bil­i­ty, as a woman, is to endure”, is how it is read. Women think that reli­gious cul­ture is to endure- “My hus­band is beat­ing me because I am fail­ing and he is teach­ing me what I need to know.”  

After hearing these narratives from many women, Dr. Dasgupta said that:  

“I have actu­al­ly found pas­sages in Mus­lim and Hin­du texts that real­ly cel­e­brate the strength of women. One par­tic­u­lar Hin­du text says “God is not in the home where the woman is not cel­e­brat­ed”. When I find these empow­er­ing texts and show them to women, it is like they are awak­en­ing. I ask them- “Why is this pas­sage invis­i­ble? Is it not also a part of your faith back­ground? I real­ly ask the women to chal­lenge how and why tra­di­tion is created. ”

 
As a second generation Indian American woman, I was curious to see what sort of advice she has for me and other second generation South Asian American women: 

 
“For a lot of sec­ond gen­er­a­tion women, I see that their par­ents are push­ing them into mar­riages they don’t want-often with men from South Asia, and often with men who are South Asian Amer­i­can. If they choose to rebel, divorce, etc., their par­ents tell them that “you are not our daugh­ter any­more.”. These women are told that they are betray­ing our com­mu­ni­ty, [and that they are a] trai­tor to our cul­ture. It often dri­ves women away from iden­ti­fy­ing as Indi­an Amer­i­can or engag­ing with the com­mu­ni­ty”   

I wish they would not reject the cul­ture but rather claim a space with­in the com­mu­ni­ty. We are incum­bent on the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion to change us, and I would advise them to not let oth­er peo­ple define what your gen­er­a­tion con­sists of.”  

And, finally, as a bookworm, I asked her for a book recommendation- specifically, a book that has changed her life:  

It is a Ben­gali book. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I do not think that they have trans­lat­ed it into Eng­lish. It is called The First Promise by Asha­pur­na Devi. It is a won­der­ful sto­ry that dis­cuss­es many issues women face- I read it when I was a young girl and still hold it very close to my heart. “

 

Dr. Das­gup­ta’s words real­ly opened my eyes to the com­pli­cat­ed, and often con­flict­ing, chal­lenges South Asian Amer­i­can women face, and her words about “betray­ing the com­mu­ni­ty” is some­thing I have seen come up in my research about “hon­or” killings as well. All in all, Dr. Das­gup­ta’s pas­sion for her com­mu­ni­ty is some­thing I found inspir­ing and her pas­sion as an edu­ca­tor is some­thing I am very grate­ful for.

JACL/OCA Leadership Conference: An Intern’s Eye View

Anoth­er post from our intern, Poon­am Patel, about the JACL/OCA Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence that took place in Wash­ing­ton, DC two weeks ago:

Ear­li­er this month, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in the Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League /Orga­ni­za­tion of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence held in Wash­ing­ton DC. It was a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with oth­er Asian Amer­i­cans who had a vest­ed inter­est in learn­ing about polit­i­cal and civic issues fac­ing the Asian com­mu­ni­ty as well as devel­op­ing inno­v­a­tive ideas to address them.

Most of our time dur­ing the con­fer­ence was spent lis­ten­ing to a wide vari­ety of speak­ers that includ­ed WWII vet­er­ans, pro­fes­sors, com­mu­ni­ty advo­cates, Con­gres­sion­al mem­bers and staffers, as well as eth­nic and main­stream jour­nal­ists. Although each of the speak­ers came from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and fields of work, their mes­sage was har­mo­nious to some extent. Almost each mem­ber of every pan­el spoke about the impor­tance of our community’s mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing our community’s issues.

Deepa Iyer, SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor spoke on the pan­el titled “Biased Based Inci­dents in the Minor­i­ty Com­mu­ni­ties: His­to­ry to Today” dur­ing which she went through a brief his­to­ry of South Asians in the Unit­ed States fol­lowed by a dis­cus­sion relat­ed to bias inci­dents with­in the South Asian pop­u­la­tion, espe­cial­ly fol­low­ing the 9/11 backlash.

In addi­tion to these pan­els, we were giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss with each oth­er devel­op­ment and out­reach ideas in an attempt to build clos­er ties with local OCA and JACL chap­ters as well as oth­er Asian Amer­i­can orga­ni­za­tions. Each evening we spent vis­it­ing a local land­mark such as the Smith­son­ian Muse­um and Nation­al Japan­ese Amer­i­can Memo­r­i­al to Patri­o­tism Dur­ing World War II after which we had din­ner at a local restaurant.

The DC Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence was an ide­al forum to con­tin­ue build­ing coali­tions amongst orga­ni­za­tions work­ing with the Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty by fos­ter­ing rela­tion­ships between the lead­ers with­in them.

Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ–South Asian Style!

Poon­am Patel, an intern at SAALT was in atten­dance for South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day in Tren­ton, NJ on March 16th. She shares her expe­ri­ence below. If you want to read more about the South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day, check out this great blog post by Son­ny Singh at the Sikh Coali­tion blog!

On Mon­day, March 16th, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to attend the first South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day in Tren­ton, New Jersey–an inspir­ing expe­ri­ence, to say the least. Grow­ing up in a tra­di­tion­al Indi­an fam­i­ly with the stig­ma that speak­ing to elect­ed offi­cials at any lev­el is fruit­less, it was reas­sur­ing to see leg­is­la­tors not only respon­sive to the issues dis­cussed but also will­ing to take action—research new means of solv­ing fun­da­men­tal prob­lems whether that involved sup­port­ing exist­ing leg­is­la­tion or intro­duc­ing new ideas.

One of the advo­cates talked about a project their orga­ni­za­tion had developed—grading pub­lic schools in a report card for­mat based on their cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy. The leg­is­la­tor that was pre­sent­ed with this idea not only agreed that it was a very effec­tive way of cre­at­ing aware­ness, but also asked for spe­cif­ic details so that the pro­gram could poten­tial­ly be imple­ment­ed in her dis­trict. While I was lis­ten­ing to this exchange take place, it became clear that inno­v­a­tive projects devel­oped by experts in their own fields com­bined with the gov­ern­ment resources can tru­ly have an affect on the com­mu­ni­ty at large.

Fur­ther­more, to see so many com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, advo­cates, and stu­dents col­lec­tive­ly dis­cuss the issues most rel­e­vant to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty shed light to the fact that they cross bound­aries of all sorts–gender, age, and nation­al ori­gin to name a few.  Even though the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty is so diverse in a num­ber of ways, there are sev­er­al issues we can all relate to such as devel­op­ing com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform or cre­at­ing cul­tur­al com­pe­tent resources for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. This is what was at the heart of Tren­ton Advo­ca­cy Day. It wasn’t about each indi­vid­ual advo­cat­ing some­thing unique, but a strong, col­lec­tive voice that caught the ears of state legislators.

Call out for Guest Bloggers in March for the SAALT Spot – FOCUS ON IMMIGRATION RAIDS AND DETENTION

SAALT wants to hear from activists and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers about the rel­e­vant issues of the day through our blog, the SAALT Spot. 

For the month of March, we are focus­ing on the top­ic of immi­gra­tion raids and deten­tion and their impact on the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. You don’t need to be an immi­gra­tion expert; we are inter­est­ed in what peo­ple through­out the coun­try and com­mu­ni­ty are think­ing and talk­ing about. 

Things you can con­sid­er when com­pos­ing a blog post:

-Immi­gra­tion enforce­ment has been on the rise in recent years and include both work­place and res­i­den­tial raids. In fact, a recent raid, the first since Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion, took place on Feb­ru­ary 24th in Belling­ham, WA, where 28 work­ers were arrest­ed by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment at a engine man­u­fac­tur­ing plant.

-Immi­gra­tion raids tear fam­i­lies apart, often sep­a­rat­ing U.S. cit­i­zen chil­dren from their immi­grant parents.

-There are now approx­i­mate­ly 400 deten­tion and depor­ta­tion facil­i­ties all around the coun­try (an inter­ac­tive map can be found here).

-A group of the Indi­an guest work­ers who allege they were exploit­ed by their employ­er in the Gulf Coast and are engaged in a strug­gle for jus­tice were caught up in an immi­gra­tion work­place raid in North Dako­ta. 23 work­ers were arrest­ed dur­ing that raid.

- Oth­er sto­ries of South Asians in deten­tion and depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings like Har­vey Sachdev, a diag­nosed schiz­o­phrenic deport­ed to India who has since gone missing

As the issue of work­place raids and immi­gra­tion deten­tion con­di­tions becomes the top­ic of Con­gres­sion­al leg­is­la­tion and con­ver­sa­tions around the coun­try, blog posts could focus on:

-How have immi­gra­tion enforce­ment pro­ce­dures affect­ed South Asians?

-What issues and pro­vi­sions should South Asians look for in gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion and poli­cies that address immi­gra­tion enforcement? 

-How can the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty make our posi­tions heard around immi­gra­tion enforce­ment policies? 

Ide­al­ly, blog posts will be between 1–3 para­graphs and each guest-blog­ger will write 2–3 entries in the course of the month. If you want to link to inter­est­ing arti­cles or blog posts, please include them in the text of the com­po­si­tion. All entries should be emailed to mou@saalt.org on the Tues­day of each week in Feb­ru­ary that you can con­tribute. Entries may be edit­ed for length. 

Does the Stimulus Bill Impact South Asians?

Nina Baliga, National CAPACD

Nina Bali­ga, Nation­al CAPACD

Check out this blog post from Feb­ru­ary guest­blog­ger, Nina Bali­ga, Devel­op­ment and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ag­er at Nation­al CAPACD. Nina tells us how she thinks the stim­u­lus bill may impact South Asians:

“Know­ing and under­stand­ing the diver­si­ty of our com­mu­ni­ties, it’s hard to say what the final impact of the Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act will have on South Asians across the coun­try.  Per­son­al­ly, I think there are enough stip­u­la­tions in the bill that pro­vide hope for our communities.

For exam­ple, $1 bil­lion will go towards the 2010 Cen­sus.   Why does this mat­ter?  Well, the cen­sus pro­vides the back­bone of infor­ma­tion that deter­mines how a lot of pub­lic mon­ey and even pri­vate sec­tor mon­ey is spent.  Part of this $1 bil­lion will be used to increase in-lan­guage part­ner­ships and out­reach efforts to minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties and oth­er “hard-to-reach” pop­u­la­tions.  If more South Asians are count­ed in the 2010 Cen­sus, then there will like­ly be more resources for our communities.

We do know that there are some pro­vi­sions that will help low-to-mod­er­ate income indi­vid­u­als, and this will def­i­nite­ly help many South Asian fam­i­lies.  For exam­ple, there is the Make Work Pay refund­able tax cred­it which could give $400 to sin­gle fil­ers and $800 to joint fil­ers in 2009 and 2010.  The bill has also expand­ed Pell grants to a max­i­mum of $5,350 in 2009 and $5,500 in 2010, hope­ful­ly increas­ing access to a col­lege edu­ca­tion to more young adults.  And for those of you who are look­ing to buy their first home, do it in 2009, because you’ll receive up to an $8000 tax cred­it from the fed­er­al government.

The bill is large and mul­ti-faceted, includ­ing tax cuts for indi­vid­u­als and small busi­ness­es, fund­ing for edu­ca­tion and job train­ing, more mon­ey for trans­porta­tion and health cov­er­age, food assis­tance, fund­ing for states and local gov­ern­ments, and so much more. The final impact on our com­mu­ni­ties is yet to be seen.  We can tru­ly hope for the best dur­ing this eco­nom­ic cri­sis, and pray that this mas­sive injec­tion of cap­i­tal into the country’s econ­o­my will prove worthwhile.”

So what do you think? How will this stim­u­lus bill impact the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty? What do you like about the bill and what do you wish it did/did not include?

Nina Bali­ga joined the Nation­al CAPACD staff as the Devel­op­ment and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ag­er in 2007.  Nina devel­ops our com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gies, and over­sees our out­reach to mem­bers, fun­ders and oth­er stake­hold­ers. Pri­or to Nation­al CAPACD, Nina worked as a Research Ana­lyst for SEIU Local 11, orga­niz­ing con­do­mini­um work­ers in South Flori­da. In 2004, she worked as the Can­vas Direc­tor of the Mia­mi office of Amer­i­ca Com­ing Togeth­er, where she mobi­lized tens of thou­sands of vot­ers in the largest vot­er con­tact pro­gram in his­to­ry.  She began her polit­i­cal career head­ing up Flori­da PIRG’s Clean Water Cam­paigns.  Nina has served on the Board of Direc­tors of SAAVY (South Asian Amer­i­can Vot­ing Youth) as the Fundrais­ing Chair, and men­tored SAAVY fel­lows at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da as part of a larg­er South Asian Youth Vot­er mobi­liza­tion movement.Nina grad­u­at­ed from New York Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Soci­ol­o­gy and Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies and recent­ly received her Mas­ters in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Florida.