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
Exec­u­tive Direc­tor,

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.

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.