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.
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.
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.