More than 300 people of all faiths gathered for a candlelight vigil at the Sikh temple in Fairfax Station on Thursday, Aug. 9, less than a week after a gunman opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wis., killing six and injuring three.
Photo by Deb Cobb.
Every morning, as my father leaves for work, I worry that something bad will happen to him. This fear is not irrational. Since September 2001, Sikh men, like my father, have been the targets of verbal and physical assaults due to their appearance.
One of the tenets of the Sikh religion requires men to maintain their beard and hair, which is covered by a turban. This is the identity of a Sikh—an identity that is all too often mistakenly connected to terrorism.
The news of the Sunday, Aug. 5 shootings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin only elevates my fear. Recent events have shown us that terrorism does not have a specific identity and can originate closer to home than we might have thought imaginable. The shooting reminds the Sikh community of the numerous individuals we have lost due to misplaced hate crimes.
Today, there are about 700,000 Sikhs in the United States and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area is home to a significant portion of this population. Sikh men have been serving in the Armed Forces since World War 1 and are buried alongside fellow Americans at Arlington National Cemetery. Despite being a part of this nation for over 150 years, we are seen as outsiders. In a country of freedom, we fear for our own freedoms.
Sikhs came to this great nation looking for all it has to offer. They were attracted to the opportunity for work, the chance to provide more for their children and the religious freedom.
For too long, Sikhs have faced the choice between their religious identity and integration in society in a country that claims to offer both. This country has made a great stride in allowing Sikh men to serve their country while maintaining their identity, but cases of discrimination and threats are still too common.
Everyday, the identity of Sikh men is challenged in the schools and streets of America. It is unfortunate that it has taken a tragic mass shooting to bring this issue to the nation’s attention.
I ask you, my community, to remember the victims of this event, including the courageous policemen who defended their local community members. I ask you to recognize the contributions of Sikhs in our area so that one day, my family and I can feel safe in the nation we call home.