Yesterday, as I was driving down one of downtown Sacramento’s streets, I stopped at a traffic light and saw two older, turbanned Sikhs talking to each other on the corner, with small American flags protruding out of their front shirt pockets. I was close to California’s state capitol building in Sacramento which, on this day, was the site of American Sikh Day.
I found some street parking a couple of blocks away and began walking over to the west steps where the gathering was to be held. I saw some Sikhs along the way, and saw some other non-Sikhs who offered kind smiles as I made my way off the sidewalk and on to the grounds of the Capitol Building. I passed by reporters talking into cameras with the Capitol as a backdrop, and I picked up the characteristic scent of langar – lunch was being served. I turned the corner from the north side of the building to the west side, saw the crowd and joined the gathering.
This was not the largest public gathering of Sikhs that I’ve seen. I would estimate that the crowd was easily in the hundreds. In other, more populated cities, I’ve seen and been among Sikh crowds in the tens of thousands. But, the spirit permeating those large gatherings was also just as much felt here. There were people of all ages, races, religions, and backgrounds. Many elder Sikhs sat under a tent on the front lawn, while much of the crowd stood at the steps. People were walking throughout with plates of Indian food, partaking of the lunch being offered. Others were holding signs that reminded us of our connection to each other as human beings, and that we are all citizens of the same land, no matter how we got here.
I joined the crowd at the steps and listened intently to all of the speakers – religious and community leaders of various faiths and groups, the politicians, law enforcement officials, and civic and state officials – pledge their support to the Sikh community in the wake of recent the Elk Grove shootings and beating of a local taxi driver, and express their feelings about what America is and how that includes the Sikhs and the Sikh appearance. All of the speakers also expressed their regret and condolences about the shootings last month. The chief of Elk Grove Police indicated that they still have no major leads in the shooting investigation, and again appealed to those who have any information to step forward.
It’s tragic that last month’s shootings brought out the need for such an event. While this brings sadness to many, there was also a positive sense of solidarity and community at this event. A similar sentiment was expressed by a writer in a local newspaper who recently joined Sikhs for dinner one evening to learn more about them. She wrote about her experience in the Sacramento Bee:
The Sikhs we met that evening were a cross-section of America: small-business owners, a teacher, a lawyer, stay-at-home-moms and government workers.
I saw much to admire, their diet for one thing – fresh vegetables and fruits, no alcohol. None of the Sikhs we dined with was overweight. All looked remarkably fit.
I left with two thoughts. First, how American they seemed: friendly, family-focused and hardworking. And second, sadly, that it took a tragedy, the senseless attack on two innocent grandfathers, for this dinner to take place.
However, after attending American Sikh Day, I am left with the assurance that no hate crime can stand in opposition of a such a diverse group of people coming together as a community under a common cause.
For more information and photos of the day, read SALDEF’s summary of the day here, and you can watch the Sikh Coalition’s slide show of American Sikh Day below.