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Sikhs in the Evergreen State: Building Bridges Between Communities

There are about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States. (Michela Simoncini/Flickr)
There are about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States. (Michela Simoncini/Flickr)
August 14, 2017

RENTON, Wash. -- Washington state's Sikh community was rattled in March when a Sikh man in Kent was shot in his driveway.

The assailant reportedly yelled, "Go back to your country," leaving many Sikhs unsure of their futures in the area. But since then, many local Sikhs have been building bridges with fellow Washingtonians.

Jasmit Singh volunteers at a Sikh community center in Renton. He said Sikhs across the country are facing a lack of understanding about their faith.

"Attacking people because of their identity - because of their faith, about the color of their skin - is never acceptable,” Singh said. "And how do we actually approach those subjects in our education institutions, in our places of work? I think it's a very important thing that we need to address as communities."

Singh noted that observant male Sikhs wear turbans and do not cut their hair or beards, and so people often mistake them for Muslims or Hindus.

Communities have reached out to Sikhs as well. After the shooting, the Kent Presbyterian Church invited people of all faiths for a community healing session and about 800 showed up. Hira Singh Bhullar, a Sikh who works as a software developer, said since the church event, his community has been reaching out to other faith centers.

"We're partnering with the church council and different churches, and Muslim faith-based people, and Jewish communities,” Bhullar said. "So, we're trying to get information to each other."

He said the tenets of the Sikh faith would be familiar to many other Americans: hard work, sharing and prayer. He added the faith also stresses social justice.

A.C. Thompson wrote a recent article for ProPublica on the uptick in violence against Sikhs across the country. He pointed out that this isn't new in Washington state.

In 1907, members of an Asian Exclusion League in Bellingham ran the entire Sikh population, as well as other South Asians, out of town. Thompson said the parallels between then and now are hard to ignore, but he sees a silver lining in the aftermath of hate crimes toward immigrants over the past year.

"Those religious and ethnic groups are talking to each other and they're building coalitions, and they're building bonds,” Thompson said. "And, you know, it sounds like a cliche, but it's actually true and it's actually important."

There are currently about 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA