The Sikh mayor of Hoboken visits Houston to share his story

Hoboken Mayor Ravinder Bhalla is at work with his two children, 11-year old daughter Arza Kaur and 7-year old son Shabeg...

Mayor Ravinder Bhalla of Hoboken, N.J., did not let his turban and beard — which are central to his Sikh faith — stand in the way of serving his community.

In fact, the way Bhalla has held true to the tenants of his religion, even in the face of bias, while rising up to take the keys of his city, can serve as an inspiration to all, Houstonian Bobby Singh said.

Singh is an active member of the local Sikh community and, for the past 25 years, has worked with the Houston Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in community outreach programs to encourage inclusion. He also served as regional director of the Sikh American Legal Defense Fund...

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Q: You were elected to office in 2017. What are some of your proudest accomplishments since then?

A: Among my proudest accomplishments are my first act in office, which was signing an executive order declaring the city of Hoboken a Fair and Welcoming Community. This used to be known as a declaration of a city as a “sanctuary city.” The order mandates, and was accompanied by a police directive from Hoboken’s Chief of Police, that all persons will be treated equally under the laws of this country, state and city, including undocumented immigrants, and that the City of Hoboken will not expend local resources in the enforcement of federal, civil immigration laws.

In the area of civil rights, under my administration, Hoboken became the first city in New Jersey and among the first in the country to require that all single-occupancy restrooms citywide, and at all public establishments, be gender neutral. This initiative was meant to uplift the rights of LGBTQ and transgender community.

We also have advanced measures in environmental justice and combatting the impacts of climate change by advancing the “Rebuild by Design” project to protect Hoboken from coastal flooding caused by climate change, enacting a ban on single-use plastic bags citywide, and becoming the first city in New Jersey to purchase 100 percent of its energy for municipal facilities from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Q: Did being a child of immigrants affect your stance on issues? How do you feel that you gained insight from this experience?

A: As the child of immigrants and as a Sikh school child, I knew that we were “different” from most others in certain ways. Regrettably, these differences as a school child were not always received well, and I was routinely subjected to school bullying based on my skin color and religion. Perhaps this experience, with encouragement from my parents to be proud of my identity, actually made me stronger, more sympathetic to other vulnerable communities in our country, and prepared to advocate for social justice and equal rights in my professional career as a lawyer and elected official...

...Q: What was the reaction of the Sikh community to your election?

A: The Sikh community was overjoyed by my election as mayor. The reaction was not to me in particular, but rather to see someone who looked like them and they can relate to, in a high-profile position of influence. It felt like a national morale boost for the Sikh community. To this day, when I visit Sikh temples, I am approached by Sikh mothers, with tears of joy in their eyes, telling me how happy they are about my election as mayor. I think that implicit in this is a message then can pass on to their children that there is no conflict between being a Sikh and being an American, and in this country our Sikh faith is an asset in our pursuit of the American dream.

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