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Sikh Temple Shooting Felt Around the Nation – Houston Sikh Advocate Reflects on Tragedy

Sikh Temple Shooting Felt Around the Nation – Houston Sikh Advocate Reflects on Tragedy

We are deeply saddened by the senseless weekend shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and offer our condolences to the families of the victims. In response to this tragedy, Asia Society Texas Center Education Coordinator Paul Pass spoke with Manpreet K. Singh, an advocate for The Sikh Coalition in Houston. Singh was a presenter at an October 2011 Asia Society Texas Center teacher workshop entitled Demystifying the Sikh Community: Understanding Sikhs’ Presence and Contributions to America.

Interview conducted by Paul Pass on August 6, 2012

What has the reaction been to the shooting in the Sikh community in Houston?
As any American whose house of worship and sanctity has been compromised, we are all shocked in dealing with the aftermath of what has happened.

What are some common misconceptions Americans have about Sikhs?
One of the common misconceptions is that people who wear the turban and have a beard are a part of a terrorist group organization. When, in fact, 99% of the time you see a turbaned American, they are of the Sikh faith, and we’re the fifth largest faith [in the world].

Within the Sikh religion, are there any teachings or scriptures that relate specifically to discrimination and violence?
The identity that we have—our articles of faith and our outward appearance, such as having a turban and uncut beard and long hair for women—that actually was symbolic not only to us, but it was a mark of identity for somebody that fought for oppression and joined us. And it’s sad now, and ironic, that the same identity that we have has now become a mark for something that doesn’t stand for such things. But this is something that we look to in our religion, that, at the end of the day, we need to fight for what’s just and what’s right. And that’s for everybody to be able to practice their freedom of religion and help one another and love your neighbor.

How many Sikhs currently live in Houston and in the state of Texas?
[The Houston Sikh] community is an old community. It was in the late 60s, early 70s, when Sikhs’ migration started into Houston. The first Gudwara, our place of worship, was built in 1973, and it currently still stands off of U.S. 290. Now the numbers are about 5,000. We are really deep-rooted here. I, myself, am a native Houstonian. [I was] born and raised here, married my husband here, [and] had my kids here. There are a lot of people like me in the city. I believe the entire state of Texas has about 10,000 Sikhs, and U.S. wide, we have about 500,000 to 750,000. So, [there are] half a million to close to a million Sikhs here [in the U.S.] and 20 million worldwide.

How can Houstonians learn more about the Sikh faith and its culture?
It’s a dichotomy. It’s sad that events like 9/11 and what happened in Wisconsin have catapulted us [into] the education realm of informing our neighbors. But now we are actively getting out there and discussing our faith and letting people know who we are. So, we have resources like myself. I’d be happy to do a presentation to any faith based organization or school or HPD. We do presentations everywhere, and you can always refer to the Sikh Coalition website. There are a lot of resources there for educators and for law enforcement and for individuals like you and I.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not already discussed?
I have been greatly moved by all the non-Sikhs reaching out and paying their condolences to us. I think it’s been fantastic that people are so in tune with our grief. So, hopefully this will open a dialogue of diversity within our community.

Note: This article first appeared on the Asia Society Texas Center website on August 7, 2012.

By Paul Pass

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