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Houston! Have we (Sikhs) Landed?

On Friday, USA Today posted a picture of a beloved Sikh community leaders to illustrate keeping Islamic terrorists out o...

It is Super Bowl time in USA. This is the biggest game and spectacle in the world, from American perspective and eyes. This year the 51st Super Bowl is being played in Houston. The space city has been transformed in the Super Bowl city. So, it is natural that the iconic words of the astronauts at the first moon landing to come to mind (see below at the end of the article for actual quotes). The title of this piece is little play on the words of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on 20 July 1969, when they first landed on Moon in Apollo 11. When the space city becomes the Super Bowl city and a center stage for the biggest TV event of the year still the space connection will be there. So, if we are wondering; “Have we the Sikhs landed in America?” Then the loud and a clear answer is “NO”.

Well the Sikhs have been in this country for over a hundred years; and we still are victims of mistaken identity. This has been more pronounced specially after 9/11 attack. If the source of this mistaken identity is to be traced, then it can be squarely related to the images of Osama Bin-Laden with turban and beard, as the perpetuator of that crime. This image with turban and beard has given a birth to many incidents of hate crimes directed at the Sikhs. In an effort to correct the distorted image many individuals, organizations have made grassroots efforts. Some Sikh youths who have been educated in this country and have been subjected to bulling themselves, or have been victims of hatred and have encountered racism have taken initiatives to correct this notion by setting up organizations devoted to combating it. There has been progress and these efforts have yielded positive results. But still even today the hate crimes do take place. According to CNN, 15 years after 9/11 Sikhs are still victims of hate crime and there are over 300 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikhs in America.

Then how can we bring about a change in the image of Sikhs and we do not have to hear the words; “Go back to your country” or “rag head” or “doorknob head” etc. I would think that it may require a serious rethinking on our part as well too. Instead of just trying to bring awareness and educate the masses it is time to think FOOTBALL or BASKETBALL. Let us try to locate young talent in our community in sports and nurture it so that it blossoms in form of Olympics, NFL or NBA players. Then we do not have make efforts to win the media or to gain it recognition. We do not have to get the media light shined on the community, instead the achievement of the individual we get the light shined on the community as well. When such a player becomes the focus of media attention the entire community will get the media lights on it too. Such, a community recognition no amount of publicity efforts, or money can buy. The media highlight of the talent in sports will have a side show with it, and that will be who the Sikhs are?

The media coverage, camera lights on the achievements will have a snowball effect it being inspirational for other youngsters to emulate. If we are not sure how this thing works. Let us see how the other minorities of the minorities have seen its effects. A very recent example is that of Simone Biles from Houston who had record haul of gymnastics gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016. At 19, Biles has already won the most gold medals in the history of the world championships. Biles with her accomplishments have changed the image of Afro-Americans in sports. Now, let us look at case Bronson Koenig a Badgers’ basketball player getting the light shined not just on the Ho-Chunk community of Native American, but also on the entire nation of Native Americans. If we still are not convinced about it, then let us look at what Darsh Preet Singh playing at college level did for the community. The news heading; “The NCAA’s First Sikh Basketball Player Memorialized at the Smithsonian” does not leave anything unsaid.

If we look at the Jewish community’s success in after the Second World War in education, business, finance, media, science, and banking and try to figure out how it was accomplished. It was the result of focus of the community on getting the best education for their children. So, let us also focus on nurturing the talent in our community and nurturing it so that its blossoms to its fullest. This way the young blessed with talent but without the requisite resources not only get to share the spot light but they become inspiration and a role model for new generation of heroes. When we have role models from the community we will not hearing again the words that Darsh said that he was always aware that none of them (his sports heroes) looked like him. So, let us nurture role models, high achievers in the community and spot light is bound to follow. With this approach the community will become darling of the media.

It is not that this road is paved and easy road to success of the community. There will be hardships, struggle, botched chances, burnouts, failures and prospects waylaid. But with determination and planning we can prove to the world the power of word of Guru Gobind Singh Ji:

“ਨਿਸਚੈ ਕਰ ਆਪਨੀ ਜੀਤ ਕਰੋਂ ॥”

“Nisachai kar aapanee jeeth karo(n).” (Dasam Granth 231)

Meaning: With strong determination turn victory to my side.

Today the wars are fought on the media but still the spirit of determination is needed to succeed in this war too. When we have succeeded in this media endeavor then we can say that:

 “Houston! We have landed.”


A Call to Action

On Friday, the newspaper USA Today posted a picture of one of our beloved Sikh community leaders as an illustration in a tweet about Trump signing an executive order to authorizing action to keep Islamic terrorists out of the United States. Not only was this association insulting and erroneous, it is dangerous to the Sikh community everywhere. Although the picture has been taken down from Twitter, it has been captured and repeated in Facebook and emails around the world. This is not the first time the media has done this type of thing and we are humbly requesting your support to oppose this. 

Please take a moment to write a letter to the editor of USA Today in protest of their irresponsible action that can only result in acts of hate and violence. A sample of what your email can say is posted below, but I encourage you to use your own words and feelings. For the sake of personal security, please do not include the name of the Sikh man featured in the picture.

It is important to make note that Sikhs do not endorse using innocent people from any community to illustrate terrorists. If this type of action goes without response, it could precipitate hate crimes against innocent people everywhere.

Join us in protest against USA Today by emailing: [email protected]

Sample email to USA Today:

"On January 27th, you posted a picture of a respected Sikh man as an illustration for your tweet about Trump signing an executive order to keep Islamic terrorists out of the USA. Practicing Sikhs wear turbans as an article of faith in our religion. The man featured in the picture is a respected US citizen, an honored leader, and well-known in our community.

This type of reporting is provocative, irresponsible, and dangerous. The Sikh community has faced hate crimes over this type of false representation. This must be remedied and you owe an apology to the Sikhs and to innocent people from every community."



Buzz Aldrin on 20 July 1969 when Apollo 11 landed. ... “Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here.”. At 4:18 p.m. on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong's voice crackled from the speakers at NASA's Mission Control in Houston. He said simply, "the Eagle has landed."

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