In the rough and tumble of Oakland, CA, a place where violence can take hold, a grandparent-like Sikh couple walk around my local park and use the free city shuttle almost every morning. They don’t talk to each other; they seem more intent on walking. Based on their simple clothing, the twists of his white cotton turban and the muted caramel brown salwar kameez worn by the woman, I would guess they have not been in the US for long. Their shoes give it away. Black, flat sandals with thick rubber treads, worn-in but built to last. These are not from Target or Macy’s, I have seen them in the bazaars of Punjab.
These two, walk in peace, use the park and transportation available for all. Watching them gives me some comfort. I feel proud of them in a silly way. The man has a somewhat messy white beard, with the crooked gait of old age. His wife drapes her soft chunni properly over her head and shoulders and adjusts it without skipping a beat. I long to say Satsriakal, a traditional Punjabi greeting. I long to hug them. But all I do is amble behind, with a watchful eye, somehow silently securing their safety as they board the shuttle. But they know what they are doing and always seem safe. The world is alright.
Today I heard about the hate crime against Piara Singh, a Sikh man brutally beaten in Fresno, CA and I immediately think of the nameless couple walking around the park. On my morning commute, I’m on high watch. I want to be in the park first thing in the morning to make sure my secretly adopted PapaJi and BeJi can walk safely as they have been. I wish there I could create a clandestine shield and protect them from my emanating fear and track their moves without interrupting their routine. Maybe their children have warned them to stay home. This rational thought fills me with a wave of remorse. It’d be such a loss. I need to see their Sikh spirit, their courageous bravery rise to the occasion. Their morning constitutional in a busy city park, sitting on public transportation a silent protest against hatred and ignorance.
They are grandparents, walking outside temples, finding refuge in a world that can be isolating and they seek to connect to their religion and culture. This recent hate crime and all others that are directed at Sikhs prove we have much further to go in this country to create unity and to accept that the “other” is a neighbor, friend, coworker and classmate. A turban is a symbol of devotion to a spiritual and cultural identity, that of a Punjabi Sikh. This outward difference is where it ends, our souls, hearts, and connection to community and family translate similarly between all citizens. But in this world, we don’t foster this idea very broadly. The media thrives on alienation and propaganda, and their thirst for an enemy creates more innocent victims.
My prayer tonight is that we strive to find connections in the sameness of our internal selves, to look past visual and cultural differences and bond over what we all have in common. Blood and bones, light and dark. The outward vessel is just marker, a slight variation that uses a tiny fraction of DNA.
I will always keep an eye out. But I pay special attention to Sikhs, especially the grandparents, who should be respected as our most tangible connection to the past.
My heart goes out to all affected by hate. I suppose we all share this in common.
I invite you to learn more about Sikhs please visit www.saldef.org/learn-about-sikhs/
Then learn more about everyone.