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USA Sikhs, U.S. Attorney Discuss Discrimination


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Sikhs, U.S. attorney discuss discrimination

By Ryan McCarthy/Appeal-Democrat
U. S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner told Sikhs gathered Tuesday at Yuba City City Hall that America is a country of many religions where "nobody should be an outsider" — and heard how this region respects that.

Speakers cited Yuba and Sutter counties as models for religious tolerance and noted that ideal is not always realized elsewhere in the nation.

"There's something special in this area," said Dr. Jasbir S. Kang of Yuba City.

Kang said before the meeting's start that, "Our values make us Americans — not our appearance."

The 120-year-history here of Sikhs helps — as does the work of schools and law enforcement, speakers said at the meeting that was part of an outreach program by Wagner to improve communication and address issues Sikh Americans face.

Yuba City Councilman Tej Maan cited the tolerance here and said, that "Education is needed in the Idaho's and Montana's of the world."

Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, told Sikhs about his youth in New York City and how its different cultures remind him of this area.

"I grew up in Brooklyn," Wagner said. "Brooklyn is very much like this community in some ways."

He spoke of the election of John F. Kennedy as president as evidence of how in the long reach of history America overcomes its bias.

"People thought there would never be a Catholic president," Wagner said. "At the time in 1960, it was revolutionary."

Several speakers cited problems they have faced outside of this region because of their faith.

Yuba City resident Karm Bains spoke about representing California agriculture at a March 2010 meeting in Washington, D.C., with a federal government agency.

"I wasn't allowed in the building," Bains recounted. "I don't want this to happen to anyone else."

He spoke about being born and raised in Yuba City and said, "We're Americans first. We're Sikhs second."

Bains said he understood the concerns two youths raised at the meeting.

Elk Grove resident Gurjeet Nijjar, 17, said when he was younger, he had his turban pulled off and told to go back to Iraq. A video that played at the beginning of the meeting noted that Sikhs' roots are in Northern India and not the Middle East.

Rocklin resident Jujhar Kaile, 16, speaking about his experiences in middle school, said ridicule and slander "follow Sikh students like shadows that will not let go."

"People target Sikhs because we look different and wear turbans," Kaile said.

Kang, who organized the Tuesday event, said youths here have a different experience — and cited the efforts of Nancy Aaberg, superintendent of the Yuba City Unified School District.

"Sikh boys in Yuba City are very fortunate to have a leader like Nancy," he said.

Sutter County District Attorney Carl Adams, who had lunch with Wagner before the event and attended the gathering, noted this area's tolerance.

"I'm very proud of what we are," Adams said.

Referring to Bains' experience in Washington, Adams said of religious bias that, "It's not a topic we can ignore."

Former Yuba City Mayor Kash Gill said education is key to overcoming bias because it ends misunderstanding.

"We always fear the unknown," Gill said.

Tejinder Dosanjh said at the Sikh Temple Gurdwara in Yuba City, where Wagner was honored following his appearance at City Hall, that the meeting was a success.

"The whole community came in a bouquet," Dosanjh said.

Yuba City resident Amarjit S. Aujla, 62, a retired teacher said at the temple that, "We believe in the American dream.

"We love America," Aujla added.



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