California’s Central Valley is a special place. It’s the heart of California, fueled by the most fertile agricultural soil in the nation. It’s also home to the largest population of a group of very special people who want to be seen for the patriotic, generous, hardworking Americans they are. They are teachers, farmers, doctors and business owners. They are Sikhs.
Many of the first Sikhs who came from India to the United States in 1899 settled in California. There are 35,000 Sikh Americans living in the Fresno area – one of the largest populations in the country. They helped build our nation’s roads and many fought for our country in World War I. The roots they put down here have grown into a rich history of service and sacrifice. They have proven that Sikh values are American values. Now they are sharing their stories with the nation through television commercials, social media and at events across the country as part of the “We Are Sikhs” campaign.
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, but 66 percent of Americans say they have never met a Sikh. Perhaps you’ve already seen the major efforts of the Sikh Council of Central California and Sikhs across this country to change that statistic.
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I’ve had the incredible opportunity to get to know many in the Central Valley’s Sikh community. I’ve even had the privilege of wearing a turban, placed upon my head by my good friend Charanjit Baath. It was an honor to wear this carefully wrapped piece of fabric. The turban represents the willingness and dedication to serve their community. The fact that this colorful symbol of faithfulness is still misunderstood by many to be a symbol of extremism is unacceptable and further proof that some are completely unaware of the history and values of our Sikh neighbors.
Efforts to share their stories of sacrifice and patriotism have already forged new friendships and community partnerships. In Visalia, Sikh business owners chipped in thousands of dollars to save a Fourth of July fireworks display. Sikhs hosted hundreds of people in Selma for a cultural exchange promoting tolerance and religious freedom. In Phoenix, Sikhs invited community members of all faiths to join them at the local Gurdwara, their house of worship.
The Sikh community is committed to the lives they’ve built here. Now it’s our turn to learn about Sikhism and make those who practice the faith feel welcome. Ask a Sikh about their turban or even check out a Gurdwara – where all community members are welcome and food is served daily to anyone who enters.
When you get to know a Sikh, you’ll get to know a friend and a kind, generous, patriotic American.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno is a Republican representing the 23rd Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes communities in Fresno and Tulare counties.