A little over 10 years ago, a young Sikh boy in India named Harbakshish (Harb) Singh dreamt of moving to the U.S. to obtain an education that would provide him with the tools needed to pursue a life full of promise and success.
He intially planned to make the big move on Sept. 11, 2001, but the terrorist attacks that occurred that day forced his flight to be canceled, and unbeknowst to him it was an event that would impact his life more than he could ever imagine.
Harb eventually found his way on American soil, but in the days, months and years following 9/11, he was the victim of intense racism and stereotyping. As a high school student at Alexander Hamilton High in Los Angeles, Harb was constantly bullied for wearing a turban -- a religious article that is actually part of being a follower of Sikhism. And after being named the school's valedictorian in 2004, he was told he could not participate in his graduation ceremony because of his turban -- something the school claimed was against district policy.
With the help of the Sikh Coalition and local Sikh activists, the school ultimately reversed its stance, and Harb participated in his graduation but was never allowed to give the traditional Valedictorian speech.
Today, Harb says he still the target of racism and stereotyping from those who simply do not understand the nature of his religion. And now, in the days after the deadly Aug. 5 shooting massacre at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee that claimed the lives of six people, including the alleged gunman, Harb feels awareness and understanding of Sikhism is more important than ever.
Harb has chosen to share his thoughts on the recent attacks against the Sikh community with this letter to the community:
For continued updated coverage on the Oak Creek tragedy, visit Patch's sister site, Oak Creek Patch. * Keep up-to-date on all Cerritos-Artesia news, alerts and events by “liking” us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.
As a Sikh-American, I am absolutely heart-broken but also feel proud for the heroic and brave actions of the police officer who fought against the tyranny to defend men, women and children at the Sikh temple (Gurdwara) in Milwaukee.
As a Sikh-American my passion has always been to learn about other cultures because at the core, all human beings are equal. As Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs said, “Recognize all of the human race as one.”
I believe that there are some fundamental truths that are common to all cultures and religions. The principles of living recognize no boundaries and are similar to the world over. I believe in recognizing the good in all and in learning the unique characteristics that highlight the differences, just as panoply of flowers in a garden exemplify the unique characteristics of the different flowers.
Since 9/11, I have faced many hate crimes, including being held at gunpoint outside my high school and being bullied as a student.
When I was about to graduate high school, an incident occurred which put my strength of will and resilience to the test. As a practicing Sikh, my religion requires that I wear a turban. I came to the U.S. shortly after the September 11 attacks and enrolled at Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. Two weeks prior to the graduation ceremonies, my school’s vice-principal informed me that I could not participate in the school’s graduation ceremony with my turban as it violated school policy mandating students to wear cap and gown.
Instead of getting disillusioned, with optimism I was able to utilize my resources and with my community’s help, activated a cascade of events that led to changing the school policy and allowing me to participate in the ceremony. Sikhism teaches its followers to use obstacle as a source of inspiration to make a change.
However, there are many untold stories of hate crime which Sikh-Americans have faced since 9/11 which we will never forget. I have faced similar adversity but with the basic teachings of Sikhism -- love, determination and optimism -- my religion has given me strength to help spread the awareness to reduce ignorance and help others with similar struggles.
Sikhs and Americans have faced similar challenges and have always overcome them. Equality and love amongst all humans can lead to a nation where everyone can co-exist in harmony irrespective of their religious, cultural, or personal beliefs.
Let us continue to respond with love and optimism and stand together as one nation to bring openness in hearts and respect for each other.
- Harbakshish Singh