On August 5, 2012, a morning of peaceful prayer was pierced with gunshots and terror.
This four-year anniversary of the shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara, where six lives were lost at the hands of a hate-driven gunman, honors not only the lives of Satwant Singh Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur, Sureg Singh Khatta, Prakesh Singh, and Sita Singh, but also the friends, families, and community forever affected by such an act.
However, in the four years since this heinous act, neither the misguided hate nor the unnecessary violence has ceased.
Sikh Americans have continued to be the victims of hate crimes, including the attack on 68-year-old Amrik Singh Bal in Fresno, California this year. Our youth continue to be bullied. And our community continues to work to change the misunderstanding facing our religion.
These are just a few examples of the difficulty we, as Sikh Americans, experience. From the murders in Wisconsin to the ridicule of a child in class, Sikh Americans are still too often viewed as not fully American.
But, as we all know, Sikh Americans are as American anyone else – our religion speaks to the very essence of what makes America great and exceptional. As the fifth-largest religion in the world, Sikhism bares remarkable resemblance to American ideals: tenets of gender and racial equality, religious tolerance, helping one’s neighbors, and serving those less fortunate.
Without this knowledge of the Sikh-American community, though, misconceptions and hate crimes run rampant. While there are many avenues to address this, a simple start for Sikh Americans is to get involved.
A lack of understanding around the Sikh-American community is largely connected to a lack of interaction within our larger American communities. In the United States, family life can be connected to public life.
Whether it be volunteering at the local library, registering voters this election cycle, serving on the local school board, or even running for office, by becoming civically engaged, Sikh Americans have the opportunity to positively challenge those who question their commitment to our country’s values. By becoming civically engaged, Sikh Americans have the opportunity to teach their neighbors just how complementary the Sikh and the American identities are.
It has been four years since the lives lost in Oak Creek. In honoring the lives lost, it is time to actively build a more positive future; one in which all communities are accepted and celebrated, and Sikh-American civic engagement is a step toward that future.
Anumita Kaur is a fourth-year student at UC Santa Barbara and a Dalip Singh Saund Fellow at the National Sikh Campaign. She is a proud Sikh American and passionate about pursuing public service work upon graduating.
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