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.