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August 6th, 2012
11:56 AM ET

Opinion: Today, we are all American Sikhs

Editor's note: Valarie Kaur is the founding director of Groundswell, an initiative at Auburn Seminary that combines storytelling and advocacy to mobilize faith communities in social action. Her documentary "Divided We Fall" examines hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. Kaur studied religion and law at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School and Yale Law School, where she now directs the Yale Visual Law Project. Follow her on Twitter: @valariekaur.

By Valarie Kaur, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Today, the day after the tragic shootings near Milwaukee, the fog will begin to lift. Just as after Columbine and Aurora, we will hear the names of the suspect and victims. We will learn more about the motive and imagine the nightmare that unfolded within those walls. In the past, hearing these horrific details would be enough to bring us together in national unity. But that will not be enough today.

Today, we are called to do more. We are called to do the hard work of listening.

If we really want to unite in response to this national tragedy, we need to know whom we are embracing. For many, this means learning about Sikh Americans for the first time - and listening closely to what's at stake. For me, the mass shooting is not just about how to keep guns out of the hands of a murderous few. It's also about my community's sacrifice in the struggle to live as free and proud Americans.

As a Sikh American whose grandfather sailed by steamship from Punjab, India, and settled in California 100 years ago, my family's story spans the struggle of Sikhs in America. Donning a turban and long beard, my grandfather tamed the hard floor of the Central Valley on a John Deere tractor in the early 1900s. Sikh pioneers such as my grandfather could not own land or become citizens because of the color of their skin, but they stayed and farmed, weathering race riots and decades of second-class treatment until the law permitted their children and grandchildren to become citizens.

Like many Sikhs, I grew up with deep roots in America and also fell in love with the heart of the Sikh faith: devotion to one God, who requires us to uphold equality between women and men and all peoples, and perform seva, service to our community as an expression of our faith. Our house of worship is called a gurdwara, where we recite and sing the poetry of our sacred scriptures. Many Sikhs wear five articles of faith, including kesh, long uncut hair that most men and some women wrap in a cloth turban.

Nearly every person who wears a turban in America is Sikh.

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soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Jorge

    Is this gonna be a trend? I mean, crazy haters losing their minds and playing county fair shooting gallery with folks who've done them no wrong? Because if it is, perhaps the NRA is right, we should all be packing heat, and I mean ALL; red, yellow black and brown.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. chris a

    Hmmmmm..... Sadly, this event served the ill. Ptb by 1) establishing the shooter as a white middle-aged, racist vet 2) blaming gun ownership rights 3) apparently the et disclosure filmmaker's dad was shot, possibly a carrying out of a threat from the ill. Ptb. Sadly, most will probably buy into the "official" account of events...

    August 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |