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,

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.

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.