Reflections on Oak Creek: A word from Deepa Iyer, SAALT Executive Director

Picture3All week, we have been fea­tur­ing pieces from artists and advo­cates around the coun­try, shar­ing reflec­tions and mak­ing calls to action. We want­ed to show the com­mu­ni­ty of Oak Creek that peo­ple from all walks of life and around the coun­try are stand­ing with them on the one-year anniver­sary. Though, we con­clude our week­long blog series Reflec­tions on Oak Creek we all know the con­ver­sa­tion will con­tin­ue on.

I was hum­bled to be in Oak Creek this past week­end with SAALT rep­re­sen­ta­tives. I want­ed to share with you a piece that reflects that expe­ri­ence. You can find it at Col­or­lines.

Per­haps one of the last­ing lega­cies of this tragedy is that it will spark a whole new gen­er­a­tion of activists and orga­niz­ers, truth tellers and dis­rupters. Let us sup­port them by mak­ing a phys­i­cal pil­grim­age to the Oak Creek gur­d­wara each August 5 to under­stand, grieve and remem­ber. And every oth­er day, let us reaf­firm our col­lec­tive pledge to not let anoth­er Oak Creek hap­pen, in the spir­it of char­di kala.

In sol­i­dar­i­ty,
DEEPA black

 

 

Deepa Iyer
Exec­u­tive Direc­tor

Reflections on Oak Creek: America the Beautiful

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.

Gowri K_photo by Les Talusan_1

Gowri K.
Poet & Lawyer
Pho­to Cred­it: Les Talu­san

When my par­ents moved to this coun­try
They knew the warmth of melt­ing pot
But not the burn of Go HOME n—–
Spray paint­ed across first bought house
They thought was theirs now

As a child I stood beside my moth­er
Hold­ing up gro­cery store check­out line
Because the cashier didn’t want to
Under­stand her for­eign-tongued Eng­lish

Just as she didn’t want to under­stand
When I shame­ful­ly descend­ed kinder­garten bus
Ask­ing why do they call me the col­or of ketchup
After all, I was born speak­ing Amer­i­can

Just like I didn’t want to under­stand
When my grand­moth­er told me
Be care­ful in the city—there are black peo­ple
Demand­ing my moth­er explain how
Prej­u­dice could exist between brown peo­ple
Being told she only knows any­one besides our peo­ple
Through the tv and you see
How racist the news can be

Just like I didn’t want to under­stand
When I stood behind my father in a
Crowd of strangers in Sri Lan­ka
Beam­ing at his ease con­vers­ing in Sin­hala
After decades away before real­iz­ing
Mem­o­ry can func­tion as sur­vival skill

Just like my par­ents didn’t want to under­stand
When my broth­er and I flew home to vis­it
In the year after 9/11 and told them about the
Air­port secu­ri­ty agent con­duct­ing
“Ran­dom” checks who
Looked at the two of us and said
I have to pull one of you out of line for ques­tion­ing—
You can decide which one

Like my three-year old niece
Didn’t under­stand when I told her
Your mom is Indi­an and
Your dad is Sri Lankan
So you’re both
Reply­ing that she was
Born in Min­neapo­lis

I’m from this is Amer­i­ca
From this is our home
From we have been here for decades
From we can’t go back now

I’m from still feel­ing like a for­eign­er
In cer­tain places in this coun­try where
I would blame myself for being there
If some­thing were to hap­pen to me

I’m from pol­i­tics being some­thing to
Dis­cuss at din­ner par­ties but keep
Behind learned vocab­u­lar­ies of
Amer­i­can assim­i­la­tion in pub­lic

Fifty years ago
Four black chil­dren in Alaba­ma were
Mur­dered at their church
Because they were proof of
What Amer­i­ca could be

One year ago
Six Sikh adults in Wis­con­sin were
Mur­dered at their gur­d­wara
Because they were proof of
What Amer­i­ca still is

A coun­try
Whose fin­ger­prints are
Caked with the blood of
Those it calls oth­er

As it claims to crown thy good
With broth­er­hood

Hood­ie
White hood
Yarmulke
Cow­boy hat
Do-rag
Base­ball cap
Tur­ban
Habit
Head­dress
Hijab

None of these things is
More Amer­i­can
Than the oth­ers
***********

Gowri K.
Poet and Lawyer

Gowri K. is a Sri Lankan Tamil Amer­i­can poet and lawyer. Her advo­ca­cy has addressed ani­mal wel­fare, the envi­ron­ment, and the rights of pris­on­ers and the crim­i­nal­ly accused. She has co-authored two peer-reviewed sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal arti­cles and her poet­ry has been pub­lished in Belt­way Poet­ry Quar­ter­ly, Bour­geon, and Lantern Review. Gowri was a mem­ber of the 2010 DC South­ern Fried Slam team and has per­formed at Lin­coln Cen­ter Out of Doors, the Kennedy Center’s Mil­len­ni­um Stage, and the Smith­son­ian Folk­life Fes­ti­val. She hosts open mics at Bus­boys and Poets and Bloom­Bars, where she serves as poet­ry coor­di­na­tor. Gowri is also the senior poet­ry edi­tor at Jag­gery: A DesiLit Arts and Lit­er­a­ture Jour­nal. She tweets on-the-spot haiku @gowricurry.

Reflections on Oak Creek: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

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.

Tanzila Ahmed Activist, Organizer, Writer

Tanzi­la Ahmed
Activist, Orga­niz­er, Writer

Sound­track to lis­ten to while read­ing post: http://saraswathijones.bandcamp.com/track/senseless

The teenage Desi youth were sprawled and scat­tered around the com­mon room with wall­pa­pered ros­es and yel­low light from the dusty chan­de­liers. It was dark out­side and the Bay Area chill was seep­ing through the cracks of the old Vic­to­ri­an bed and break­fast. The youth were enrapt, despite the late­ness, despite how much knowl­edge we had tried to pack into their brains that day. When the sun set ear­li­er, we had stood in a cir­cle – youth par­tic­i­pants and core orga­niz­ers alike- and a box of dates had been passed around. Some youth were fast­ing for Ramadan but most were South Asian youth of var­ied oth­er reli­gious back­grounds, not fast­ing. When the aza­an on the iPhone app began soar­ing, we all said qui­et self-reflec­tions and broke our fast with that date, togeth­er and in sol­i­dar­i­ty.

That was how we began our Islam­o­pho­bia Work­shop at Bay Area Solidarity Summer (www.solidaritysummer.org) a cou­ple of Fri­day nights ago. We began in sol­i­dar­i­ty.

The 15 Desi youth at our five-day camp were young, rang­ing from 15 to 20 years old, but they were fierce. We had begun our camp that Thurs­day with sto­ries of lega­cies. We lit­er­al­ly walked the youth through the his­to­ry of jus­tice fight­ing that belongs to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in Amer­i­ca. We talked about the Belling­ham Race Riots in 1907, to the Koma­ga­ta Maru being turned away from Cana­di­an shores in 1914, to the for­ma­tion of the Ghadar par­ty in San Fran­cis­co in 1913. We talked about Kar­tar Dhillon, Tin­ku Ish­ti­aq, Pre­rna Lal, and Amit Gup­ta. We talked about how the Beats for Bangladesh album in 2013 built on the lega­cy of George Harrison’s Con­cert for Bangladesh in 1971, how the sev­en South Asian con­gres­sion­al can­di­dates who ran in 2010 built on the lega­cy of the first Sikh and Indi­an Con­gress­man Dalip Singh Saund in 1957, how the Pun­jabi poet­ry on the walls of Angel Island was con­nect­ed to the The Bridges pub­li­ca­tion out of UC Berke­ley in the 70’s, and how the Asian Exclu­sion Act (1924), Luce-Celler Act (1946), and Dream Act were all relat­ed.

I took a deep breath as I looked around the youth sprawled in the dim­ly lit room. They rep­re­sent­ed the next gen­er­a­tion of the pro­gres­sive move­ment for the South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. As a Mus­lim South Asian Amer­i­can activist myself, I was per­son­al­ly invest­ed in devel­op­ing Desi youth lead­ers who would be capa­ble of speak­ing in sol­i­dar­i­ty on Mus­lim issues in addi­tion to mul­ti­ple oth­ers affect­ing the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. I need­ed an activist com­mu­ni­ty that under­stood the impor­tance of South Asian sol­i­dar­i­ty. That we had unit­ed strug­gles. That it was ben­e­fi­cial to fight social injus­tices togeth­er. That hate-crimes and pro­fil­ing lumped us all togeth­er into a col­lec­tive Brown. But you can’t teach youth sol­i­dar­i­ty – you can only teach them issues and cre­ate safe spaces for dia­logue. The sol­i­dar­i­ty, you hope, comes after.

We walked the youth through images of Aladdin on a car­pet, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma in a tur­ban, a woman caged in a hijab. We walked through con­cepts of racial­iza­tion, oth­er­iz­ing, mar­gin­al­iza­tion, and exo­ti­fi­ca­tion. We talked about sys­tems of oppres­sion, liv­ing in a sur­veil­lance state, the rash of hate crimes at mosques and the $42 mil­lion dol­lar islam­o­pho­bia indus­try fund­ed by only sev­en foun­da­tions. We showed videos of Aasif Mand­vi as Bill Cos­by, of a hijabi flash­mob at Lowes, and of Con­gress­man Kei­th Ellison’s tear­ful 9/11 tes­ti­mo­ny at the King Hear­ings.

And I was ner­vous. Because last year when I had walked through these issues with the BASS youth, they didn’t quite get it. Their eyes glazed over when I talked about 9/11, in that way that kids’ eyes tend to glaze over when hear­ing again a sto­ry from when they were five. And one youth pushed back, say­ing that even though he had Mus­lim friends, he was Hin­du, and he didn’t have to deal with these issues when he was home. I felt like I had failed as a train­er.

That very next morn­ing last year, on August 5, 2012, as the youth were out on a rad­i­cal walk­ing tour, that the BASS orga­niz­ers got word of the shock­ing and trag­ic shoot­ings in Oak Creek. Hov­er­ing over the lap­tops, we obses­sive­ly clicked refresh on our inter­net feeds. And when the youth came back, I gen­tly broke to them what had hap­pened. How do you empow­er youth when the real life news out there is telling them to be afraid? Be afraid because your skin is brown, because your moth­er tongue is dif­fer­ent, or your reli­gion makes you a tar­get of peo­ple shoot­ing guns, even – or espe­cial­ly – where you pray? Be afraid because gun rights are a joke where firearms are acces­si­ble to white suprema­cist but if you even google guns, you risk being brand­ed as a ter­ror­ist?  Be afraid because white sys­tems of oppres­sion still rule? I didn’t say any of that. Instead I asked for the youth to be still, reflect, and have a moment of silence.

As I looked at every­one sit­ting on the floor that morn­ing last year, I knew that they got it. It was a poignant and trag­ic teach­able moment. A hor­rif­ic, per­fect­ly timed, teach­able moment on why we need to build sol­i­dar­i­ty, as South Asians and as humankind.

It was that teach­able moment I was think­ing about as I looked at this year’s BASS 2013 class. It had been a year since the Oak Creek shoot­ing. It had been a year since the vig­i­lante stream of attacks on mosques dur­ing last year’s Ramadan. What had start­ed as post‑9/11 back­lash ten years ago has mor­phed into a mon­ster of con­stant fear direct­ed at the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. As a com­mu­ni­ty, we were on the defen­sive, always it seemed. But beau­ty has come out of it, too – a vibrant, lush activist com­mu­ni­ty in sol­i­dar­i­ty that uses tools of love, arts, com­mu­ni­ty, and pol­i­tics to com­bat and resist.

As I looked in the eyes of each of our youth par­tic­i­pants dur­ing our clos­ing cir­cle, I saw a fire I hadn’t seen there before. They weren’t fear­ful. Their pas­sion was ignit­ed and they all felt loved and empow­ered. They were equipped with the tools and knowl­edge they need­ed to com­bat and resist in this world, but to do it in ways that hon­or love and com­mu­ni­ty, that give life to hope. And that was when I knew they’d got­ten it: what it means to live and act in sol­i­dar­i­ty.
**********

Tanzila Ahmed
Activist, Orga­niz­er, Writer

Tanzi­la “Taz” Ahmed is an activist, sto­ry­teller, and politi­co based in Los Ange­les cur­rent­ly work­ing as the Vot­er Engage­ment Man­ag­er at Asian Amer­i­cans Advanc­ing Jus­tice — Los Ange­les. She has been a long-time writer for SepiaMutiny.com, and her writ­ing can most recent­ly be found in the anthol­o­gy Love, Inshal­lah: The Secret Love Lives of Amer­i­can Mus­lim Women. You can find her online at Muti­nous Mind­state and Say What? as well as at the music site Mishthi Music where she just co-pro­duced Beats for Bangladesh: A Ben­e­fit Album in Sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Gar­ment Work­ers of Rana PlazaFol­low her on twit­ter @tazzystar.

Reflections on Oak Creek: The Power of Sangat In My Second Home

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.

Manpreet Teji

Man­preet Kaur Teji
Pro­gram Asso­ciate,
SAALT

On August 5, 2012, I woke up and got ready to go to Gur­d­wara, as I would on any oth­er Sun­day. I was attend­ing a local ser­vice at the Guru Gob­ind Singh Foun­da­tion in Rockville, MD, when a mem­ber of the con­gre­ga­tion announced that there was a shoot­ing at a Gur­d­wara in Mil­wau­kee. Imme­di­ate­ly, every­one picked up their phones and start­ed look­ing for news arti­cles, read­ing posts on Face­book and twit­ter, and tex­ting loved ones to make sure they were okay. After that moment, my mind went blank.  We all remained silent as the pro­gram end­ed after which every­one qui­et­ly ate their lan­gar, a com­mu­ni­ty meal, and spoke in pan­icked whis­pers. For the next few weeks, all I could think about was the shoot­ing. I had always thought that the worst attack that could ever hap­pen to our com­mu­ni­ty would be an attack on a Gur­d­wara, our place of wor­ship, and that had now hap­pened.

I remem­ber that Sun­day so vivid­ly. I was glued to the tele­vi­sion and stayed close to my friends and fam­i­ly. I could not sleep that night, feel­ing rest­less and uneasy. My ini­tial reac­tion was fearhow this could hap­pen to a Gur­d­wara, a place of wor­shipa place I called my sec­ond home?  When I was younger, I dread­ed going to Gur­d­wara on Sun­days because I would have to sit through three hour long pro­grams and attend Pun­jabi class.  As I grew old­er, I start­ed to like going to Gur­d­wara because I would be able to meet my friends there and hang out, under­stand and learn more about my reli­gion, and con­nect with my com­mu­ni­ty. Nowa­days when­ev­er my fam­i­ly and I are trav­el­ing, my father will try to find a Gur­d­wara wher­ev­er we are. He always tells me, “Any­where you go, you should get to know the Sikhs there.” His words inspired the con­nec­tion I feel with my com­mu­ni­ty and the love I have for Gur­d­waras. I have always felt for­tu­nate that I can be a part of the Sikh com­mu­ni­ty no mat­ter where I am. It is because of this bond—this close­ness in our community—that the attack on Oak Creek was so painful. By tak­ing the lives of six inno­cent people—mothers, fathers, broth­ers, sis­ters, sons and daughters—one indi­vid­ual brought hate into a place that I love.

As I trav­eled to Oak Creek last week­end for the one-year anniver­sary of the day that hate was brought into the Oak Creek Gur­d­wara, the theme that sur­round­ed this week­end was “Char­di Kala,” or relent­less opti­mism dur­ing times of hard­ship.  I thought to myself, how can I be in Char­di Kala when a place I love was dev­as­tat­ed and the fam­i­lies of lost loved ones are in infi­nite pain?  How can I embrace the con­cept of Char­di Kala, when this was the biggest attack dur­ing my life­time on my com­mu­ni­ty in a place of peace and love?  But once I got to Oak Creek, all of my ques­tions were answered with the pow­er of San­gat. In Sikhism, San­gat or com­mu­nal prayer amongst fel­low wor­ship­pers is large part of pro­vid­ing strength, com­mu­ni­ty and peace to an indi­vid­ual.  The San­gat of Oak Creek showed such immense strength and courage, lift­ing up their spir­its and look­ing towards the future- with­in sec­onds, their Char­di Kala spir­it infect­ed me.  I came to Oak Creek with a heavy heart and a lump in my throat, but that went away once I joined hands with the Oak Creek San­gat to remem­ber Suveg Singh Khat­tra, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Ran­jit Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh.

As dif­fi­cult as the past year has been, reflect­ing on the real­i­ty that my sec­ond home, a beloved Gur­d­wara, was attacked, I gained more strength from the com­mu­ni­ty of Oak Creek than from any­where else. I com­mend the San­gat of Oak Creek for stand­ing tall dur­ing this ter­ri­ble time of hard­ship. Kan­wardeep Singh Kale­ka, nephew of one of the vic­tims, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, summed it up when he said, “I am proud to be a part of such a San­gat and I mean that in a glob­al sense.  Wahe­gu­ru (God) has blessed us with so much love from all over the world. The whole is only as good as its parts and there are many parts that work as one.” Over the past year, so many our parts have to work as one in renew­ing our Char­di Kala- from the Oak Creek com­mu­ni­ty to the Sikh com­mu­ni­ty broad­ly to the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, the love and sup­port has been tremen­dous. As the one-year anniver­sary of the Oak Creek shoot­ing pass­es, I can con­fi­dent­ly say that although the pain is still there and work needs to be done to ensure that such an attack nev­er hap­pens again, the strength and Char­di Kala of the Oak Creek com­mu­ni­ty con­tin­ues to pay trib­ute to Suveg Singh Khat­tra, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Ran­jit Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh and to ele­vate the col­lec­tive spir­it of Sikhs in Amer­i­ca.
***********

Manpreet Kaur Teji
Pro­gram Asso­ciate
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, SAALT

Reflections on Oak Creek: Solidarity from Within

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.

(Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in Opine Sea­son on August 2, 2013)

“Sim­ply say­ing we need to move beyond the black/white bina­ry (or per­haps, the “black­/non-black” bina­ry) in US racism obfus­cates the racial­iz­ing log­ic of slav­ery, and pre­vents us from see­ing that this bina­ry con­sti­tutes Black­ness as the bot­tom of a col­or hier­ar­chy. How­ev­er, this is not the only bina­ry that fun­da­men­tal­ly con­sti­tutes white suprema­cy. There is also an indigenous/settler bina­ry, where Native geno­cide is cen­tral to the log­ic of white suprema­cy and oth­er non-indige­nous peo­ple of col­or also con­firm a sub­sidiary role. We also face anoth­er Ori­en­tal­ist log­ic that fun­da­men­tal­ly con­sti­tutes Asians, Arabs, and Latino/as as for­eign threats, requir­ing the Unit­ed States be at per­ma­nent war with these peo­ples. In this con­struc­tion, Black and Native peo­ples play sub­sidiary roles. Clear­ly the black/white bina­ry is cen­tral to racial and polit­i­cal thought and prac­tice in the Unit­ed States, and any under­stand­ing of white suprema­cy must take it into con­sid­er­a­tion. How­ev­er, if we look at only this bina­ry, we may mis­read race dynam­ics of white suprema­cy in dif­fer­ent con­texts.” 

-Andrea Smith

BaoPhi

Bao Phi
Poet

Recent­ly, I’ve been see­ing a lot of blog posts and com­ments in dis­cus­sion that work off an assump­tion that Asian Amer­i­cans don’t get crim­i­nal­ized, or that our community’s strug­gles are some­how less­er com­pared to oth­er peo­ple of col­or. In Min­neso­ta, South­east Asians, as well as oth­er peo­ple of col­or and indige­nous peo­ple, are often crim­i­nal­ized — espe­cial­ly Hmong and Cam­bo­di­an peo­ple. The cor­rupt and abu­sive Metro Gang Task Force was full of offi­cers that have a his­to­ry racial­ly pro­fil­ing peo­ple of col­or, includ­ing South­east Asians, and many of those offi­cers have records show­ing exten­sive com­plaints about their anti-Black and anti-Hmong behav­ior, specif­i­cal­ly. South­east Asians across the coun­try strug­gle with pover­ty, are vic­tims of police bru­tal­i­ty, and face unjust depor­ta­tion poli­cies that tear apart their fam­i­lies. We live in an envi­ron­ment of ram­pant Islam­o­pho­bia and state crim­i­nal­iza­tion, impris­on­ment and mur­der of Mus­lims.

In nam­ing South­east Asians, Arabs, and South Asians, I don’t mean to ren­der invis­i­ble the very real race and class based dis­crim­i­na­tion or invis­i­bil­i­ty that East Asians also endure, nor do I seek to flat­ten or sim­pli­fy the inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty of those of us who are mixed race, queer, and women.

I’m respond­ing to an alarm­ing pat­tern that I see emerg­ing, where some Asian Amer­i­can activists choose to point fin­gers at oth­er mem­bers of the Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty and demand that we check our priv­i­lege in a way that is uni­lat­er­al and myopic. Unfor­tu­nate­ly this is a re-emer­gence of an atti­tude I’ve encoun­tered fair­ly often over the years as a com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er — that some Asian Amer­i­can activists believe that there is a lin­ear con­tin­u­um of cross-racial hos­til­i­ty and oppres­sion with Asians on one end (assum­ing we have the most priv­i­lege out of all non-white peo­ple) and African Amer­i­cans, Lati­nos, and Native Amer­i­cans on the oth­er, and that your sup­port of com­mu­ni­ties deemed less priv­i­leged becomes a sort of lit­mus test to how right­eous an activist you are.

While Asian Amer­i­cans can and have par­tic­i­pat­ed in white suprema­cy against oth­er peo­ple of col­or and indige­nous peo­ples, it does­n’t mean that they’re suc­cess­ful.  Just because some Arab and South Asians put Amer­i­can flags out­side their homes after 9/11 as a mea­sure to show alliance with Amer­i­ca to pro­tect them­selves *doesn’t mean that it worked.* Just because Asians are taught to strive for an upper mid­dle class Amer­i­can Dream that dis­tances them­selves from their own com­mu­ni­ties as well as oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of col­or over land stolen from indige­nous peo­ple – it doesn’t mean that they’re con­scious­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in these sys­tems of oppres­sion as much as they are going along with what all of us have been taught how to pur­sue and mea­sure suc­cess, by media and our cul­ture – and it doesn’t mean that the vast major­i­ty of them actu­al­ly suc­ceed. In 2010, Jason Yang had just got­ten a job and was ready to turn his life around – that didn’t save him from being racial­ly pro­filed at the club and get­ting chased off a bridge, to his death, by police.  In 2006, Fong Lee was racial­ly pro­filed while rid­ing his bike with friends and was shot and killed by a white offi­cer who won a Medal of Val­or for the act, in one of the most bru­tal police bru­tal­i­ty cas­es in Twin Cities his­to­ry.

Assum­ing Asian Amer­i­cans don’t get racial­ly pro­filed isn’t just bad pol­i­tics, it’s inac­cu­rate. While it is nec­es­sary to exam­ine our per­son­al priv­i­lege, we also have to be care­ful that we don’t assume our own per­son­al priv­i­leges and social loca­tions are the same for all Asian Amer­i­cans across the board. It’s been a long time since I, per­son­al­ly, have been crim­i­nal­ized. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hap­pen to oth­er Viet­namese peo­ple. In 2003, Cau Thi Bich Tran was shot and killed in her own home by police, with her kids in the adja­cent room, because the cops (who were nev­er charged) thought her veg­etable peel­er was a cleaver.

Strate­gi­cal­ly, if we acknowl­edge that Asian Amer­i­cans often don’t have access to anti-racist frame­works that are rel­e­vant to their own com­mu­ni­ties, it’s more effec­tive to show them exam­ples of peo­ple who look like them who have been racial­ly pro­filed and whose fam­i­lies suf­fered fur­ther dev­as­ta­tion by the fail­ure of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem – and unfor­tu­nate­ly that list is quite long. Vin­cent Chin, Fong Lee, Daniel Pham, Yoshi Hat­tori, Chon­buri Xiong, Michael Cho, Bal­bir Singh Sod­hi, Waqar Has­san, Kuang Chung Kao, the tragedy at Oak Creek, and the many  oth­er South Asians and Arabs who have suf­fered abuse espe­cial­ly after 9/11.  And his­tor­i­cal­ly, we can look at cas­es where Asians have worked, across eth­nic­i­ty and cross-racial­ly, for our­selves and in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties in var­i­ous his­toric and con­tem­po­rary social jus­tice move­ments.

I believe work­ing in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of col­or requires us to think about how our expe­ri­ences are dif­fer­ent but relat­ed, and ulti­mate­ly inter­twined. Yes, that means that we – all of us, Asian or oth­er­wise – need to exam­ine our priv­i­lege, learn from each other’s his­to­ries and expe­ri­ences, and real­ize that ulti­mate­ly white suprema­cy dehu­man­izes and dis­tances us all, from our own com­mu­ni­ties and from each oth­er. Sol­i­dar­i­ty does­n’t mean we erase our com­mu­ni­ty’s strug­gle, it doesn’t mean we roman­ti­cize oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of color’s oppres­sion because we believe it car­ries more weight than our own.

We all want to be good allies. We all want, so des­per­ate­ly, to do the right thing — above all, to be use­ful. I just want to put forth that being an effec­tive com­mu­ni­ty work­er and a good ally is most effec­tive when we work from with­in our own com­mu­ni­ties – with nuance, with inten­tion, and with love. If we instead give in to our ego, if we instead insist on being the ‘excep­tion­al’ Asian activist and par­tic­i­pate in divide-and-con­quer, where we point fin­gers at our own com­mu­ni­ties from out­side of it and say we wish Asians were more rad­i­cal, why can’t Asians be more down for the cause like us — if we indulge our self-right­eous­ness rather than work from a place of love and nuance — we are not effec­tive, to our own peo­ple or any­one else. Com­mu­ni­ty activism isn’t a com­pe­ti­tion – it is above all an act of love. Peace.
********

Bao Phi
Poet

I would like to thank Parag Khand­har, Giles Li, Sahra Vang Nguyen, Jas­mine Kar Tang, Ter­ry Park, and Leah Lak­sh­mi Piepz­na-Sama­ras­in­ha for their feed­back, advice, edits, and con­ver­sa­tion which led to the revi­sion and pub­lic post­ing of this piece.

Bao Phi is a Viet­namese Amer­i­can Min­nesotan spo­ken word artist, pub­lished poet, com­mu­ni­ty work­er, non­prof­it arts admin­is­tra­tor, part­ner, son, broth­er, and father.

Reflections on Oak Creek: Sadly, this isn’t over yet…

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.

Manju

Man­jusha P. Kulka­rni, Esq.
Exec­u­tive Direc­tor,
South Asian Net­work

One year after the shoot­ing at the Oak Creek Sikh Tem­ple, our com­mu­ni­ty is con­tin­u­ing to grap­ple with seri­ous con­cerns and sig­nif­i­cant fear about the repeat­ed hate crimes and hate speech against mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ty.

Just days ago, there was a hate crime in our area—Southern Cal­i­for­nia. Reli­gious lead­ers and con­gre­gants of the River­side Gur­d­wara awoke on the morn­ing of July 30, 2013 to find the word “ter­ror­ist” sprayed on the tem­ple walls.

It is anoth­er trou­bling inci­dent for our com­mu­ni­ty as we are mark the one-year anniver­sary of the dead­ly shoot­ing of six of our Sikh broth­ers and sis­ters in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin.  And it is one year after we seek to heal from dozens of hate inci­dents against Mus­lim Amer­i­cans that took place in quick suc­ces­sion across the coun­try.

We are now well aware that these are not iso­lat­ed inci­dents. They are part of a his­to­ry of big­otry and prej­u­dice against our com­mu­ni­ty. We saw a huge rise in hate crimes, bul­ly­ing and racial and reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion after 9/11 and we are see­ing ever increas­ing vio­lence again. While we may not know the spe­cif­ic motives of each assailant in each act of vio­lence, we know that they stem from big­otry and anti-immi­grant sen­ti­ment being fanned by irre­spon­si­ble and big­ot­ed com­ments made by some politi­cians and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers across the coun­try. It is time that we make con­nec­tions between the two as we stand up against hate speech and hate crimes tar­get­ed at our com­mu­ni­ty as well as oth­er com­mu­ni­ties. We must be as vig­i­lant in oppos­ing Rep. Steve King’s inde­fen­si­ble char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of most Lati­no immi­grants as “drug mules” as we are in chal­leng­ing Rep. Peter King’s remarks about the vast rad­i­cal­iza­tion of Mus­lim Amer­i­cans. The two Kings’ com­ments are equal­ly abhor­rent and equal­ly offen­sive.

The FBI recent­ly announced that begin­ning in 2015, it will track hate crimes against Sikh, Hin­du and Arab Amer­i­cans. This change, result­ing from years of com­mu­ni­ty pres­sure, is a step in the right direc­tion. Only after we have sta­tis­ti­cal evi­dence of the many hate inci­dents can we begin to under­stand the nature of the crimes and their impact on our com­mu­ni­ties and start to address them sys­tem­i­cal­ly. But, more—much more—is need­ed.

A few days after the Oak Creek shoot­ing, a mem­ber of the Sikh Tem­ple there stopped his car next to a pick­up truck at an inter­sec­tion. Cre­at­ing the shape of a gun with his fin­gers and thumb, the man in the truck looked over at the Sikh gen­tle­man, say­ing “This isn’t over yet.”

If we fail to stand up with our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and mem­bers of oth­er immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties to protest this con­tin­u­ing pat­tern of hate and vio­lence and demand action by our pol­i­cy­mak­ers to address this wave of big­otry and pre­vent future attacks against Sikhs, Mus­lims, — against all of us — it won’t be over any­time soon.
**********

Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Esq.
Exec­u­tive Direc­tor
South Asian Net­work

Man­jusha (Man­ju) P. Kulka­rni is Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the South Asian Net­work (SAN).  SAN is a com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to advanc­ing the health, empow­er­ment and sol­i­dar­i­ty of per­sons of South Asian ori­gin in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.  Locat­ed in Arte­sia, Cal­i­for­nia, SAN serves the needs of indi­vid­u­als of Indi­an, Pak­istani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and Sri Lankan descent in the areas of civ­il rights, vio­lence pre­ven­tion and health and health care access. 

 

 

Reflections on Oak Creek: Parenting After Oak Creek and Trayvon

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.

 Jesse

Going to our local Sikh tem­ple (gurud­wara) is such a habit in our fam­i­ly that if we’re feel­ing lazy one Sun­day morn­ing, our five year old boy girl twins will protest loud­ly that they want to go to gurud­wara. Not want­i­ng to hear the deaf­en­ing sounds of angry five year olds protest­ing all day, we’ll quick­ly agree. On August 5, 2012, my hus­band and I signed up the kids for Sun­day school at our gurud­wara. That very day, in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin, a hate filled gun­man killed six Sikh Amer­i­cans in their own place of wor­ship osten­si­bly because of their appear­ance.

As the moth­er of a five year old Sikh boy who sports long hair wrapped in a pat­ka (lit­tle boy ver­sion of a tur­ban) and the wife of a tur­ban wear­ing Sikh, I am acute­ly aware of how they are per­ceived in the gen­er­al Amer­i­can pop­u­lace and how it impacts my par­ent­ing. My hus­band, a tall Sikh man with a tur­ban and a beard, was viewed with such pub­lic sus­pi­cion in those ear­ly months after 9–11, that I tru­ly feared for his per­son­al safe­ty. Too many peo­ple in this coun­try still don’t know who the Sikhs are: a peace­ful and patri­ot­ic com­mu­ni­ty heart­sick at the mas­sacre and strug­gling to deter­mine how they can edu­cate peo­ple so this nev­er hap­pens again. As we watched the media cov­er­age, shield­ing our chil­dren from the tragedy, we couldn’t help but think about our kids. In the almost year that has passed, it has been in the fore­front of my mind because my son is start­ing Kinder­garten this August at a pub­lic school.

In the future, my now five year old son will sport a tur­ban and beard. I won­der if I will have to fear for his safe­ty the way I still fear for my hus­band in the post 9–11 world. That peace­ful wor­ship­pers can be gunned down in their safe place based sim­ply on their appear­ance is anti­thet­i­cal to the Amer­i­can free­dom of reli­gion and racial pro­fil­ing in the extreme. My son, in his first two weeks of preschool at age three, told me, “no one under­stands why I have long hair and a pak­ta.” He is acute­ly aware of how peo­ple act around him, and we talk about people’s mis­per­cep­tions reg­u­lar­ly.  When I had kids, it nev­er occurred to me that I’d be hav­ing such deep con­ver­sa­tions with my five year olds.

My mama griz­zly bear reac­tion to his feel­ings was to go into his preschool class­room and explain very gen­er­al­ly what a Sikh is and why my chil­dren and our fam­i­ly grow our hair long with­out preach­ing reli­gion to all the kids. Preschool­ers only know that some­one is dif­fer­ent and are curi­ous to learn about them. They don’t under­stand how reli­gions can divide fear-filled grown-ups: they only know that my son looks dif­fer­ent to them. I told them that my son has long hair to match his fam­i­ly, and wears a pat­ka to cov­er it, and that you should nev­er be mean to some­one just because they look or are dif­fer­ent.  “Should you be mean to some­one because they like choco­late cup­cakes and you like vanil­la?” The kids all yell in uni­son “NOOO!” They sound so cer­tain, yet I know the real­i­ty is that I will have to repeat and adapt this pre­sen­ta­tion many times in the future to ensure the safe­ty of my son.

While I have lots of the nor­mal kinder­garten angst that every mom prob­a­bly has, it is acute because Nihal will take a bus to school. A BUS with new and much old­er kids— to a new school! The tear­jerk­er is think­ing about how mean chil­dren can be about dif­fer­ences and all the new issues we’re going to face because some­one said some­thing to my chil­dren that was hurt­ful. I am not ready to deal with big­ger kid issues. I am con­tent to talk about choco­late and vanil­la cup­cakes. I don’t want them to grow up and learn just how ugly our world can tru­ly be. That what they will expe­ri­ence is in line with so many oth­er peo­ple that are deemed sus­pi­cious or “oth­er” sim­ply based on their appear­ance or skin col­or. They will one day know about Trayvon Mar­tin and all the numer­ous untold sto­ries of chil­dren like him. Like Trayvon, I ful­ly antic­i­pate chal­lenges in Nihal’s climb through ado­les­cence as he learns to nav­i­gate the judg­men­tal nature of peo­ple who don’t know what to make of his appear­ance and react with sus­pi­cion and dis­trust. Nihal, like so many oth­ers before him, will be sus­pi­cious, yet inno­cent. As his mom, I am pet­ri­fied.
**********

Jasbir (Jesse) K. Bawa
Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor
Howard Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law

Jesse Bawa is an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Lawyer­ing Skills at Howard Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law. She also serves on the Board of Direc­tors for the Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense Edu­ca­tion Fund (SALDEF). 

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.
**********

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