FAIRFIELD — The shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed seven people last month shocked the nation and left both Sikhs and non-Sikhs wondering why it happened.
Many in local the Solano County Sikh community believe it happened because of lack of awareness.
Manjit Purewal, president of the board at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, said that while the incident was a huge tragedy, it was not an isolated incident.
“(The) Wisconsin (shooting) put Sikhs on the map, ” he said.
Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world. It was founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region by Guru Nanak Dev.
One of the five articles of faith that Sikhs follow is not cutting their hair. They also must keep their hair neat, well-kept and covered. When the religion originated, many Sikhs also worked in agriculture and found wearing turbans was the easiest way to cover their hair. That tradition continues.
Purewal said that many people, however, identify Sikh turbans with terrorists.
“I don’t like using (the term) mistaken identity,” he said. “Sikhs don’t hate anybody . . . . We should not hurt our Muslim brothers.”
The misunderstanding that the Sikh community faced increased after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Even before, during the Gulf War, they were misidentified and targeted as terrorists.
Solano County Sikhs have dealt with hate crimes and violence, including incidents of racial slurs, graffiti at the local temple, vandalism and a shooting outside the gate of the Fairfield temple.
To address these issues, 11 people from the community created the Punjabi-American Cultural Association. Their objective is seemingly simple: Create a better understanding among various communities and educate people about Punjabi culture and Sikh religion.
Through local events, classes, fundraisers and more, the Punjabi-American Cultural Association aims to not just create a better understanding with the non-Sikh community, but to involve themselves more in the mainstream.
They have seen a positive response from Solano County, said association founder Gupreet Dhugga.
“There are more people interested in knowing about Sikh religion,” he said.
The shooting in Wisconsin, however, highlighted the fact that the association’s work is not done.
“It is our moral responsibility to make people aware of our beliefs and our values,” Dhugga said.
The association is hosting its annual seminar Saturday and the timing is opportune — it is taking place nearly a month after the attack at the Wisconsin temple and a few days before the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“Since it’s so close to Wisconsin, this has highlighted awareness,” Purewal said.
The event takes place in four parts: it will begin with a social and free traditional Indian food and drink. Participating organizations, Sikh and non-Sikh, will then make 20-minute presentations about the history of Sikhs in America, from their migration in the early 1900s until now.
Representatives from participating organizations will engage in a panel discussion with the audience. Dhugga said many of the panel members are experts in the field of Sikhism and will answer questions to anything from their personal experiences to tips for small-business owners. They will also address questions about their religion.
The seminar will conclude with a traditional Punjabi dance performed by children from the Guru Nanak Temple.
The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Fairfield Center for Creative Arts, 1035 Texas St. For more information, visit http://www.pacassociation.org.