More Than 125 Years of Sikh American History Comes to the Rose Parade

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Float features Sikh men and women who have dedicated their lives to community and service alongside representations of 125 years of Sikh American history; resulting from partnership of United Sikh Mission, SikhLens, Khalsa Care Foundation, and SALDEF

On January 1, 2015, Sikh American history will be featured on the first-ever Sikh American float during the 127th annual Rose Parade. As a result of a collaboration with the United Sikh Mission, SikhLens, Khalsa Care Foundation, SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund), and dedicated Sikhs from around the country, the float will highlight Sikh American values, Sikh history in the United States, and over 125 years of contributions to American society.

“The theme of this year’s Rose Parade is inspiring American stories. The Sikh American story speaks to American ideals, such as a dedication to family, hard and honest work, and an enterprising spirit, and that’s why the Sikh American float will be featured in America’s New Year celebration this year,” remarked Rashpal Dhindsa, founder of United Sikh Mission.

The first structure Rose Parade viewers will see is of the Stockton Gurdwara, the first Sikh house of worship that was established in the United States, 102 years ago. Maninder Kaur, who serves as creative director said, “You’ll also see a cornucopia and a locomotive, which represents Sikh Americans who were laborers and farmers in 1903. Many Sikh families continue to farm and manufacture in the United States, alongside other Sikh Americans who have made major contributions to business and democracy, including Jaspreet Kaur Saini, the first Sikh American female lawyer in the Navy JAG. In fact, the peaches on the float represent Didar Singh Bains, who is affectionately called the ‘Peach King of California’ for growing the largest number of peaches in the country.”

The twelve community members featured on the float are also representative of the Sikh community’s diversity and values. Americans will meet fellow Sikh Americans who have dedicated their lives to serving all of America in some way, including men and women who are members of California-based police forces, the national Army, a film student at Chapman University, and civil rights advocates.

Bhajneet Singh of the Khalsa Care Foundation commented, “You will also see rising Sikh American youth who have demonstrated that they will serve as future community leaders, including Sikh youth who are proud Boy Scout and Girl Scout members.”

In 2013, SALDEF collaborated with researchers from Stanford University to conduct the first public perception assessment of Sikh Americans in the United States. The study revealed that 70 percent of Americans could not identify a fellow Sikh American. Further, one out of every five Americans experienced anger or apprehension when they saw a Sikh American stranger with a turban and beard. The report, entitled Turban Myths, conclusively found that the creation of new forms of media would aid in combating bias against Sikh articles of faith, including the dastaar (turban) and beard, as SikhLens, one of the float collaborators does year-round through a collaboration with Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.

Jasjit Singh, executive director of SALDEF explained, “By bringing our shared American history to the forefront at the Rose Parade, we are addressing bias and generating major Sikh American awareness. In fact, we believe that sharing our story benefits any community who is perceived to be ‘different’ across the United States. This New Year’s Day, we are celebrating our Sikh American ancestors and our ongoing commitment to ensure that America is a land in which all Americans can pursue their unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

A representation of Sikhs’ commitment to America’s democracy is Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian American and Sikh who served in Congress starting in 1957 as a representative of the 29th District of California. A timeline that expounds on Sikh American history and the Sikh American spirit of chardi kala, eternal optimism, follows this release.

A Sikh American History Timeline[1]

1899-1917: Sikhs begin to migrate to California working as laborers and farmers; migration was severely curtailed by Immigration Act of 1917 (a.k.a. Asiatic Barred Zone Act). Legal migration from Asia ended with the National Origins Act of 1924.
September 4, 1907: A lynch mob of several hundred attack and rob the homes of Sikh millworkers in Bellingham, Washington.

October 24, 1912: The first Sikh American Gurdwara is founded in Stockton, California.
1913: The Ghadar party—an independence movement from British colonialism—was founded in Astoria, Oregon; California Alien Land Law of 1913 bars Souths Asians and other groups from owning property.

1920: Sikhs march in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade wearing green turbans and carrying signs that read: “300,000,000 of India with Ireland to the last” because “our cause is a common cause,” demanding unconditional independence for India and Ireland.

1923: In United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Thind— a U.S. Army veteran who sought naturalization— was “not white” and could not become a U.S. citizen. Asians were barred from citizenship until the Luce-Celler Act of 1946 is signed into law allowing Indians to naturalize and become citizens.
January 3, 1957: Dalip Singh Saund from San Joaquin, California (C.A.’s 29th Congressional District) becomes the first Sikh American and APIA elected (in 1956) to the U.S. Congress.
1965: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 lifts restrictions and exclusions, allowing Asians to immigrate the to U.S.

1981: Sikhs are barred from serving with their articles of faith in the U.S. Military—despite the extensive participation of Sikhs in both World Wars— ending a long-standing religious accommodation. As of today, three Sikh American soldiers have been given exemptions to serve with their articles of faith.

September 15, 2001: Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American gas station owner, was shot five times and killed, becoming the first American to lose their life as a result of a hate crime after September 11th.

October 2008: Jaspreet Kaur Saini becomes the first Sikh American female lawyer in the Armed Services (Navy JAG).

May 2012: Washington, D.C. becomes the first major city in the U.S. to allow Sikh American police officers to serve with their articles of faith.

August 5, 2012: A white supremacist gunman, Wade Michael Page, attacked a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six Sikh American members, and injuring four others, in the deadliest attack on a place of worship since the Jim Crow Era.

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