FAIRFIELD — With a packed house at the Fairfield Center for Creative Arts, this year’s Diversity Festival, presented by the Sikh Community of Solano and Napa counties, proved to be another success.
Mainly aimed at creating greater understanding of Sikh culture, this year’s festival branched out to include multiple faiths and cultures, said Gurpreet Dhugga of the Punjabi American Cultural Association.
“It started after (Sept. 11, 2001) with the aim of creating awareness about Sikhs because there was a lot of misunderstanding due to their appearance,” Dhugga said, referring to Sikhs being misidentified because of their appearance and targeted in hate crimes. “This annual event has evolved into the Diversity Festival with the idea of bringing different communities together and creating more togetherness.”
The night’s program included presentations on Sikh culture, a panel discussion on Sikh youth in America and a Mexican dance performance.
Dhugga was thrilled with the turnout, and even more so with the diversity of the audience.
“Over half the people are non-Sikhs,” he said.
“We have seen a big change, especially in our county,” Dhugga said. “In Solano County, we are hearing about all the hate crimes and different stories in other states – in New York, Wisconsin. In Solano County, people are very open, very accepting, very tolerant.”
That’s a far cry from the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when some Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims.
“Initially we had some issues at the Sikh Temple. We had some graffiti and some slurs, but that was only for a few months after 9/11,” Dhugga said. “Since that, we have not seen anything.”
Much of that is thanks to events like the Diversity Festival educating people.
Harpinder Jassar, another organizer of the festival, said the message was simple.
“Inside we are all the same,” he said.
Among those in attendance were various dignitaries, including Fairfield Mayor Harry Price and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley.
Frazier was happy to be included in the festival.
“It’s good to get some history and learn about how passionate the Punjabi culture is about helping the community,” he said. “I just love being included and being their friend.”
Frazier also said he’s happy to help any way he can with one particular goal: for Sikhs to be able to serve in the U.S. military without forgoing the symbols of their faith, their beards, uncut hair and their turbans.
While it is a federal issue, Frazier said he’ll pass the issue on to members of Congress.
“I’m happy to help them attain that goal,” he said. “They’re a passionate people who love their community and are clearly a role model.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.