American Turban

Ricky Gill, from the Nikki Haley school of politics

Ricky Gill and Nikky Haley (photo: Ricky Gill press release November 9, 2011)

Ricky Gill and Nikky Haley (photo: Ricky Gill press release November 9, 2011)

Ricky Gill – as mentioned on this blog recently – is a Republican candidate seeking to represent California’s 9th District, who seems to be taking a page out of Nikki Haley’s school of campaiging (via @sepiamutiny):

[Ricky] Gill is the son of two doctors of Punjabi descent, Param and Jasbir Gill, and grew up immersed in Sikh traditions. On the campaign trail, he does not dwell on his heritage, preferring instead to call himself “a nontraditional candidate” and emphasizing his education in Catholic and other Christian schools.

Gill’s first name is Ranjit, but he prefers to be called Ricky, a nickname his brothers, Chaman and Vick, gave him as a toddler in honor of one of their favorite professional wrestlers, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.

Much like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley did when she ran for the Governor’s seat, Gill is reportedly distancing himself from his Sikh heritage in his campaign and emphasizing a Christian background.  As Haley endorsed Gill late last year, perhaps it should not be a surprise that he is following her playbook, but it is nonetheless disappointing that a Sikh American is choosing to obscure his own background for the sake of an election.

It is considered groundbreaking by many when an Indian American – and indeed, when a Sikh American – runs for office in this country, however it will truly be so when one runs on the strength of his or her background rather than in spite of it.

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23 comments

    • Based on the news article I cited, it seems as though Ricky Gill is distancing himself from his religious background, but he hasn’t called himself a Christian.

      If you browse his campaign website (http://www.rickygill.com), you will not find any obvious mention of his ethnicity or religious background. Is it because these things shouldn’t matter, or is it because these things would hurt his chances?

      I also noticed that among his list of advisors (many of which are from the medical field), there is a Deacon and Pastor of local churches, but no analogous representation from the Indian or Sikh community. That he has Christian clergy on his advisory team isn’t an issue with me, but the absence of any Sikh or otherwise Indian community representative feeds into the sense that he would rather de-emphasize his background.

      So, in my opinion, to answer your question, it appears he is playing around the issue. However, this lack of acknowledgement of his background will not stop Indians and Sikhs from supporting his campaign.

  1. tomatolady1

    Ricky “plays around” a lot of issues. He’s one thing to one crowd, and another to a different crowd with an anything to get a vote and $ mentality. I have respect for the Sikh community in my neighborhood as they are principled. But I don’t respect the “play all sides of an issue” game. Abortion is a big issue that he has made many conflicting statements on – he’s been pro-life, called it a state’s issue, and has part ownership in his parents clinic which did late term abortions. Ricky should take some time to finish college, get a real job in the real world and figure out who he really is. Experience is a great teacher.
    Read about a better choice for CA-9 at http://www.johnmcdonald2012.com.

    • Shortly after writing this post, I contacted Ricky Gill’s campaign to offer him the opportunity to address this subject, but I have not yet received any response.

      The lack of response from his campaign may be an unintentional oversight, but it may support your opening statement as well.

  2. Rupinder, I think you make a great point. By the way the majority of my campaign advisers and donors are Punjabi. Ricky Gill’s Dad has a story of triumph over anti-Indian bigotry when Ida Amin kicked out the Indian community from Uganda. I think it stupid politically for him to ignore this. Oh well. On the other hand he chose instead to associate himself with a billionaire from Nevada, a Mr. Whittemore, by claiming he owned King 888 which is a beverage company in partnership between the Gill’s and Whittemore’s. King 888 has tons of sleazy photos, etc. which is not going to be very helpful to his election efforts. Mr. Whittemore is also under investigation by the FBI for campaign finance fraud, to none other than Harry Reid. As part of all the Whittemore mess the Gills are also accused (and I say accused, as there is no concrete evidence yet) of being party to a scam to defraud another billionaire family named the Seenos. This allegation will play out in court right during the middle of Ricky’s campaign. At any rate Ricky has zero chance to be elected this November and in large part due to his exaggerations of what he has done and then not emphasizing the better parts of his families accomplishments. I suspect if I make it to Washington DC, there will be a lot more Punjabi’s making a difference in US Government than if Ricky wins. Cheers, John

    • Shafeeq

      I disagree with your article. Just because he doesn’t wear a turban does not mean he is not proud of his roots. You don’t need to scream “I AM SIKH!” because its not relevant to his running for office. What is relevant is his politics.

  3. Shafeeq

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to insinuate you had a problem with him not wearing a turban. What I meant was that his race or religion should not be an issue in this campaign by his side or his opponent’s side. He shouldn’t have to advertise it.

  4. Lo

    Who gives a damn?

    He is American born and was probably influenced more by the Western lifestyle as he should be.

    Nikki Haley is a Christian, by the way. She is a convert. Sikhism is a religion, not a race and there are many Indian Christians like me who have practiced Christianity since birth.

    • I’m not questioning whether he should or should not live a western lifestyle. Assuming he is a Sikh, I am questioning why he is hiding that aspect of his identity. There are implications in his example around what it means to be a Sikh in this country.

      This is not meant to be a commentary about the validity of Indians practicing Christianity. Certainly, there are many Indian Christians. And, everyone is well aware that Nikky Haley is a Christian because she explicitly emphasized that fact during her campaign. But, the fact that she had to emphasize that affiliation so to dissociate from any perception of being a Sikh is what is interesting.

    • Lo

      Sikhism is not welcome in your country and it doesn’t deserve to be. Americans have a right to be sceptic of people of other religious affiliations getting into office.

      In India, Christians are treated poorly and priority is given to Hindus. Why should it be any different in the West?

    • Rupinder Mohan Singh

      It is different in the United States because freedom of religion is a right promised to every American by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. To deny someone the ability to run for office on the basis of their faith is to prohibit free exercise of their religion, which violates that Amendment.

      How the Government of India treats its religious minorities is a separate discussion that has no bearing on whether a person of Sikh descent can legitimately and openly run for office in the United States.

    • Lo

      Nobody is suggesting that Sikhs be banned from running for office, but that people naturally have a right to be skeptic of Sikhs and people of other religions who do. This would and does encourage conversions and the acceptance of more western lifestyle.

      To claim that acceptance of a western lifestyle is an act of betrayal on Ricky Gill’s part is ludicrous and anti-American.

      Hispanics and African-Americans constantly whine when someone of their race doesn’t tow the party line and strays away from their herd mentality. Unfortunately, you and other Americans of Indian descent are trying to adopt a similar mentality.

      I noticed that you only seem to become furious with Sikhs adopting a more “European” culture, but say absolutely nothing about those adopting the dim-witted African-American thug culture.

    • “Lo”, allow me to address several aspects of your response.

      1. Please explain why people “have the right” to be skeptic of Sikhs and/or “other” faiths who run for office in the United States — a country in which is enshrined in its founding documents the freedom of religion, and one in which government is not to favor any specific faith.

      2. No one has claimed Ricky Gill’s acceptance of a western lifestyle is an act of betrayal. The question around his reluctance to acknowledge publicly the Sikh community at all, one that he has stated his membership is the issue, given point 1 above. In the US, we believe in a free and equal society, and his actions were not reflective of this.

      3. This is a blog is limited in scope to Sikh American issues. Your broad generalization of “whining” is nothing more than that. You are applying racial and ethnic prejudice to this discussion when those are not stated American values.

      4. Please indicate where I have expressed any fury about Sikhs adopting “European culture”. Let us also note that India’s entire democratic system is based on “European culture”. This blog, and the issue discussed specifically in this post, is about the participation of Americans who are followers of the Sikh faith in the political sphere.

      Finally, in the future, please keep your comments respectful.

  5. Kevin

    I live in Sacramento which is about 30 minutes north of Lodi (where Ricky Singh is from) and I am born and raised in Central Valley of California just like Ricky Singh. I’m also a 28 year old Punjabi Sikh male. I’m a registered democrat and I won’t be able to vote in the race that Ricky is in because I don’t reside in that district. Even if I did live in that district I wouldn’t vote for him because I don’t agree with his political views. I personally feel if he doesn’t openly embrace his Indian background or identify himself as a member of the Sikh faith it’s not a major issue. Also, if he prefers to go by Ricky or Rick rather than Ranjit that’s totally fine too. That’s his prerogative. Or perhaps he’s not a practicing Sikh but whether he is or is not he doesn’t have to make that part of his campaign and post it on his website. I think by posting this article you’re trying to paint him as someone that is not proud of his background yet he still gets huge support from the Punjabi American community in the Central and Northern San Joaquin Valley. It seems your upset at him for not mentioning his background and that’s why this article was written and posted.

    • You are partly correct. I posted this originally, and the follow-up posts, because I noted the tendency for Ricky Gill to completely absolve from mentioning the word “Sikh” — even though he is one (presumably), his family is, and he quietly collects donations from Sikhs in and at events outside of his district, and all this outside of the view of his PR effort and mainstream media.

      Further, he wears a kara (a Sikh article of faith) on his wrist, and in private circles he has indicated that he is Sikh. So, why the public silence on his part?

      His behavior appears consistent with Nikki Haley, who went to special length to make sure no one would consider her a Sikh.

      As it relates to Ricky Gill:

      Is it bad politics for a candidate, when asked about his background, to mention he is a Sikh?

      Is it bad politics, when fellow Sikhs are murdered in Wisconsin, to himself identify as a Sikh when he offers short statements of condolence?

      Is it bad politics to post photos on his campaign website where he has attended Sikh fundraisers and other events?

      I am not even suggesting that he needs to make his religious affiliation part of his campaign. At minimum, I simply am interested to know why he is totally silent about it.

      Further, it is a part of his campaign: he has attended fundraisers held by Sikhs organized in and outside of his district, and uses those donations to support his campaign. Why those Sikhs hold fundraisers in his cause — particularly those in southern California or elsewhere outside his district — is another interesting question.

      I am not expecting him to shout out his self-identification from the rooftops. However, this smacks of marginalizing Sikh Americans. I am interested to know the reasons for this type of behavior, and while many excuse him for it, no one can provide an answer — not even he or his campaign.

  6. Kevin

    @ Lo….what do you mean by “Sikhism is not welcomed in your country and it DOESN’T DESERVE to be”?? You clearly are anti-Sikh and are prejudice…..And no, Americans don’t have the right to be skeptic of someone because of their religion no matter what kind of backwards thinking you have. You write above in your post that Christians are treated poorly in India and preference is given to Hindus and it shouldn’t be any different in the West. Why not? Just because you don’t belong to the majority religious affiliation of the U.S. you shouldn’t be allowed to hold office?? So JFK never should have been president as a Catholic? Should Mitt Romney drop out because his Mormon beliefs freak out Evangelical Christians? Go back to 1957 dude.

    • Lo

      Yes, Americans do have the right to maintain their culture and Sikhs who immigrate to the West should have to assimilate. Nikki Haley married an American and converted to Christianity. She lives in a civilized society in which women are treated with dignity.

      “So JFK never should have been president as a Catholic? Should Mitt Romney drop out because his Mormon beliefs freak out Evangelical Christians?”

      Catholics are Christians, you half-wit and Mormonism has many of the same elements Christianity does. Those two individuals also live a very modern lifestyle which is more in-sync with American culture.

    • Again, “Lo”, you are making broad charges that reveal your racial/ethnic bias.

      “Culture” is a very dynamic and fluid concept. It is defined by the practices of the members of this society that includes Native Americans, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, the unaligned, atheists and more. There is no expressed value in American law or founding documents that mandates that everyone in this land become Christian, or attempt to become “white”. To live in a “civilized” society is a reflection of behavior and not allegiance of a particular religious tradition.

      Let us not forget that, historically, there has even been backlash against specific groups of Christians in America, including Catholics and Mormons. Many Christians only recognize the Mormon faith as a cult.

      In so far as your suggestion of ethnic cleansing (i.e. “Sikhs should be made to assimilate”), I see no evidence of a civil society in this statement. And further, this is not an American value.

      The United States was not designed to be a Christian country. If so, the character of this nation and its practices would be very different. Instead, this country is very diverse in many ways, now more than ever including religious traditions, and all should have equal opportunity to participate with equal dignity and without discrimination.

      I would suggest applying racial/ethic prejudice and using offensive terms is not characteristic of a civilized person. So, I will ask once again that you remain respectful in future comments on this blog.

      Finally, please study the United States Constitution. See “Links” at the bottom of this page.

      Thank you.

  7. Shawn

    I think Lo lives in a different country and is commenting as an outsider. He/she obviously knows very little of our culture and history.

  8. Aneett

    I am tired of these Uncle Toms. the Sikh people , the Hindu ppl, the punjabi people, the Indians and all the desi ppl need a real hero, someone to look up to. Someone who represents his/her people and makes advances in helping them. Someone who is proud to be desi! Someone who loves their religion and wants to help his/her community and not convert. Someone who loves his people. Some who little kids of that community can look up to and say that they r proud of who they are. Someone who shows the American public what Sikhism is or Hinduism or Islam etc…. Or someone who is proud to be Indian Desi without being born in India. Not these Uncle Toms who will give up their identify just to fit in. I mean Blacks love talking about how black they r and r proud of their ppl. Asians r proud of their ppl. Hispanics r proud of each other too. But what happens when it comes to Indian!!!!!?! Why do Indians love getting whitewashed and thinks it cool? Be proud of your Identity! Be proud of your names. But clearly Indian ppl love to be white. These ppl don’t represent desi folks and clearly don’t want to so why shall we support them? I’m younger than them and born n raised in the States but love saying that I’m proud to be Indian. I’m proud to be Punjabi. I’m proud to be Sikh. Any chance I get to show my identity I do so.

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