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USA Temple In Turlock Welcomes Visitors To Build Understanding Of Sikh Culture

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Temple in Turlock welcomes visitors to build understanding of Sikh culture

By Marijke Rowlandmrowland@modbee.com

last updated: April 29, 2012 11:21:37 PM

Out of the tragedy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, another tragedy befell the Sikh community in the United States.

That of being misidentified, misunderstood and even killed by those mistaking the South Asian-based community as Muslim or Arab. A Sikh man in Arizona was the first person murdered in retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

So in the decade since the attacks, the Sikh community across the country and in the Central Valley has worked to promote understanding and prevent discrimination.

At the Turlock Sikh Temple on Sunday, those efforts continued as more than a dozen area city mayors, school board trustees, council members and law enforcement officials learned more about Sikhism.

Turlock Unified School District board member Harinder Grewal organized the event, which he hopes to turn into an annual gathering. Mayors from Modesto, Riverbank and Patterson attended.

"The reason I thought about doing this was the first fatality after 9-11 was a Sikh, and it hurts," Grewal said. "The goal is to reach out to all the communities and give them this information. We can't avoid something like that again, but we can educate people and teach who we are."

Bay Area members of the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy and education group founded in New York after the terrorist attacks, gave a presentation on Sikh culture. Founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India, Sikhism is the fifth largest world religion and has 23 million followers.

The presentation included the religion's fundamental tenets and Sikhs' language and culture, including the distinctive turbans they wear.

"The turbans of Sikhs is just part of our identity," said Nirvair Singh, a volunteer with the Sikh Coalition in Fremont. "It's so closely tied with our uncut hair, you can't separate the two. If I go out without a turban I'll feel like I'm not fully dressed."

Singh and the other speakers stressed the importance of equality in Sikh culture and how, unlike in Hindu culture, there is no caste system. They also discussed women's equal standing and the importance of preserving the Punjabi language.

The Sikh community in Turlock has held a Punjabi School on Sundays for 10 years. Students ages 6 to 17 learn the language and culture every Sunday from September to June from volunteer teachers.

Grewal has spearheaded efforts to get Punjabi taught in area schools as a foreign language. Those plans have failed because of a lack of sign-ups, but he said the need to educate people about Sikh culture continues.

Sikh contributions to U.S. culture were emphasized, starting from when they first immigrated to America in the 1890s through the present day with prominent Sikh scientists and leaders.

Many of the officials who attended spoke at the temple later, discussing their experience and expressing thanks.

"I did come here probably with a lot of misconceptions about the Sikh community," said Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueño. "But it makes me feel good we're being not only welcomed but encouraged to learn more about the Sikh community."

Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson said he was heartened by the turnout as well as the warm welcome with which they were received.

"The true strength of America is in our diversity," he said. "We are all Americans here and we respect what culture and community means in America."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284.

source: http://www.modbee.com/2012/04/29/2179367/temple-in-turlock-welcomes-visitorsto.html

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