Last August’s murder of six Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin devastated Sikh communities across the nation. Around 30,000 Sikhs live in the greater Seattle area. In response to this hate crime, a forum was held last Saturday at the Bellevue Crossroads Community Center to help local residents learn about Sikh culture and traditions.
“Nothing justifies killing innocent people … and that’s why we are here to say, ‘hey, understand us for who we are, not for what we are not,’ ” said Jasmit Singh, a founding member of The Sikh Coalition, which sponsored the event.
About 30 people— families, individuals, one recently immigrated couple, and a few elderly adults—attended the presentation. Singh said that the discussion was an opportunity for community members to learn and ask questions in a safe and open environment.
Kevin Henry, community-relations coordinator for the city of Bellevue, noted that “Bellevue is way more diverse than it was 20 years ago, and even with that diversity people still become separated. … So we’re trying to build bridges, create a stronger more unified community by bringing the different parts of community together for anybody that wants to come.”
Singh said stereotyping remains an enormous issue, especially after 9/11. Going through security when he’s flying somewhere tends to be an arduous experience for him.
“When I go to an airport, 100 percent of the time I’m selected for secondary screening, so it’s not really that random, it’s a case of Sikhs being profiled. … I’ve just learned that that’s the way it’s going to be for now until I can educate others,” said Singh.
About a dozen hate crimes were reported in the Seattle area against Sikhs in the three months following 9/11, according to Singh. The killings in Wisconsin are another reminder that hate crimes against Sikhs are unfortunately still prevalent. Singh encouraged attendees to speak up against social injustices.
“Knowledge alone cannot dispel hate. It’s the personal connection, it’s the personal understanding on a human level,” said Singh. A robust discussion followed his presentation.
In addition to reaching out to members of the community, Singh is engaging with school boards and administrators to educate them about the impact of school bullying, workplace discrimination, racial and religious profiling, and hate crimes.
The presentation was made possible with the help of King County Library System, Aasra Magazine, and the Bellevue Cultural Diversity Program.
Rebecca Tuck, site manager at the Bellevue Library, said that “one of the wonderful things about the library is that it’s a place where everybody [from diverse backgrounds] comes, so I encourage people to come to the library, see their neighbors.”
Added Singh: “We are a strong community that is united against hate. That is the strong message that we need to send. That these things are challenges but we must endure and rise above.”
(JESSICA KAMZAN is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)