REFLECTION FROM THE HEARTLAND
Indianapolis, Indiana USA, Dec. 30, 2009
Kanwal Prakash Singh
As we are welcoming a new year, our thoughts and spirit momentarily return to the year that we are leaving behind. We proudly carry forward, with a sense of deep gratitude, the memories of many blessings, significant achievements, unexpected surprises and encounters, personal and professional breakthroughs, and useful lessons to guide us in the future. We are also aware of our individual and collective responsibilities about the challenges we face as Americans, and especially as Sikh Americans in Indiana and America.
PROMISING PROSPECTS AT THE CROSSROADS
We cannot say that all was perfect, but look back fondly at the past year and, with enthusiasm, anticipation, and optimism towards the New Year and what it may hold for our world:
During 2009: there were the usual events, involvement, and participation in colorful weddings, cultural celebrations, community forums on faith, culture, diversity, race and cultural relations, interfaith prayer services, fundraisings for worthy causes. There were discussions with students, community visitors, and distinguished guests at the Sikh Temple and other places about faith, history, and heritage and its rightful place in the American cultural and civic landscape; the recent convergence of immigrants and ethnic communities in the America’s Heartland as our new great frontier of opportunity. These initiatives generated promising responses:
Sikh Americans were invited and witnessed up-close the democratic process at work during the ceremonies of the Inauguration of Governor Mitch Daniels at the Indiana State House in February. Governor Daniels had visited the Sikh Temple (Acton Road) for the Historic Tercentenary Celebrations in October 2008.
Colorful Indian and Punjabi entertainment highlighted the Asian American Alliance’s Second Annual Asian Festival in May at Garfield Park and at the International Festival sponsored by Indiana Nationalities Council in November at the Indiana State Fairs Grounds in Indianapolis.
It was refreshing, illuminating, and inspiring to see special presentations on Sikh history and heritage, arts and culture, Sikh contributions and concerns at The Kaur Foundation’s Conference and fun and festive Gala: “Taking Heritage into the 21st Century” at the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in June. “The Sikh Art and Film Festival,” sponsored by SikhLens and Sikhpoint at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, in November introduced us to prominent authors, artists, and filmmakers. These events attracted accomplished and emerging entrepreneurs, scholars, celebrated authors, artists and filmmakers, outstanding pioneers in many fields, U.S. political leaders, and other special guests from around the world. It was amazing to see the creativity, excitement, and to imagine the unimagined potential that a many such efforts represent for people and cultures in enlarging global understanding.
Once again, the Indiana Sikh participants were the largest contingent in the Asian American Alliance’s annual “Race for All Races.” The Sikh Temple (Acton Road) congregation participated in two successful food drives in support of the Interfaith Hunger Initiative.
WELCOME INVITATIONS AND UNEXPECTED BLESSINGS
In October, Mayor and Mrs. Greg Ballard and in December, Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams, visited the Sikh Temple (Acton Road) in Indianapolis. These distinguished City leaders assured the Sikh community of their appreciation for the many contributions of the Sikh Americans to the City, State, our Nation, and promised to address concerns of job discrimination, harassment, or violence in schools emanating from their sacred articles of faith and Sikh American identity.
A special invitation to attend and participate as interfaith guests in the 175th Jubilee Celebration of the Indianapolis Archdiocese at Lucas Oil Stadium in May was a memorable highlight. The colorful pageantry and religious ceremonies including songs, prayers, and time-honored traditions was very impressive and beautifully presented, with over 30,000 Catholic faithful and many guests in attendance. Local and national media covered the historic anniversary celebrations for a large cyber-audience in Indiana and beyond.
The Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist Center (TMBCC) in Bloomington extended several invitations to religious and cultural celebrations in 2009. The 108-acre wooded campus of TMBCC amidst the rolling hills of southern Indiana houses the beautiful Kumbum Chamtse Ling Monastery (West) and other structures. The place has been visited by His Holiness the Dalai Lama five times and is an emerging international pilgrimage center in America’s heartland.
The Indiana Sikhs were invited and joyously participated as a part the Nationalities Parade Unit in the annual 500-Festival Parade in May. The nationally televised Parade attracted over 300,000 spectators along the Parade route in downtown Indianapolis.
KP Singh artwork was featured at The St. Luke’s United Methodist Church’s Art Gallery in October to coincide with the series of sermons, “Our Neighbor’s Faith” delivered by Rev. Kent Millard, Senior Pastor of the Church. The Sikh faith tradition was represented and discussed during the regular worship and also in a special classroom setting.
Asking a Sikh to be one of Three Kings/Wise Men for the Live Nativity presentation at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church during the Christmas season was an unusual invitation and a very special experience. It was fascinating to witness the Christian faith bring back to life the story of the birth of Christ in music, song, and dance and as a colorful and memorable lesson, especially for the young. Ms. Lisa Stebbins magnificently directed the production of the show.
EXPERIENCES, LESSONS, AND FUTURE
We can only imagine the power and impact of unleashing the untapped promise of the new generation of immigrants in America. The experiences and efforts in Indianapolis are not all that significant. However, when we see the myriad imaginative and innovative efforts of 800,000 Sikh Americans as among the most energetic Asian Americans who today form over 11% of the U.S. population, we get a better understanding of the strengths, dimension, and far-reaching ripple effect of the multitude of such efforts across America. We are witnessing in awe and with pride, the incredible achievements of these hardy and focused Asian Americans in so many fields of endeavor and their determination to make a rightful place for their talents, culture, arts, heritage, and dreams; fiercely compete and excel in the Holla Mohalas of our times and place.
This strength and commitment bodes well for the future and legitimate concerns of Asian immigrants at the new crossroads. We can see that all around us that the Asian arts, languages, family values, work ethic, and pioneering spirit are adding a new vitality and unique richness to the American cultural and spiritual landscape. Asians are discovering that mainstreaming our ideas, expectations, and potentials; interfacing them with established American institutions and interests; networking with other Americans holds the best possibility to dispel unfounded stereotypes. Together we need to dismantle barriers that come from ignorance that often leads to problems of misunderstanding, suspicion, fear, isolation, and greatly diminished sense of belonging. The distinct physical appearance, faith-mandated sacred articles, ethnicity, or national origin has sometimes deteriorated into unfriendly treatment, discrimination, unprovoked violence, and hate crimes against fellow Sikh Americans, Arabs, Muslims, and others. Civic authorities are increasingly concerned about such outrage against fellow Americans. Minority communities and their leaders are addressing such problems with efforts at many levels to prevent such incidents, restore dignity and confidence of their rights and recourse.
WITH HOPE, OPTIMISM, AND NEW RESOLVE
We can break this unfortunate cycle when we celebrate the gifts and assets represented by all Americans and put them to service for the greater good of all Americans and our world. We must look to each New Year with optimism and hope and then see how these hopes may be advanced. To have the best chance to succeed and excel: the ethnic, cultural, and faith communities need to think outside the box; recognize that each of us represents the promise of America and humanity, has a stake in future prosperity and peace at home and abroad. Therefore, every worthy effort to connect, work and serve in solidarity, in a positive spirit, brings us closer to seeing ourselves not as separate but as partners in our National identity, American tapestry. Therein may rest the unimagined blessings and rewards of every American.