Dear Supporter Ji,
Twenty years ago tomorrow, the Sikh community--along with Americans of all races, ethnicities, faiths, and backgrounds--watched in horror as our country was attacked.
As we reflect on the thousands lost, injured, and directly affected by the 9/11 attacks, I am thinking about how nearly everyone I know within the Sikh community--and many others, including Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians--remembers how we experienced the trauma that day in two distinct ways. First, we shared the initial shock, fear, and anger that all Americans felt when we saw so many lives lost and our sense of security shattered. Then, we immediately began to worry about our loved ones as we instantly experienced a wave of backlash against our communities across the nation--with suspicion, discrimination, and even targeted violence alienating us from our neighbors, employers, and government.
Two decades on, we continue to insist that these experiences be recognized. Today, through the support of the Sikh Coalition and other allied organizations, Congresswomen Pramilya Jayapal and Judy Chu introduced a resolution recognizing the racist backlash faced by our communities after 9/11 and calling for a full review of the ways that our government furthered that backlash. However, long before we had the political weight to influence Congress, our community made the choice to persevere with courage, strength, and unwavering resilience. From the first day of our organization’s existence, the Sikh Coalition was working to provide free legal aid to Sikhs in need; we’ve since expanded from working constantly in crisis to proactive, far-reaching efforts in the legal, policy, education, community development, and media spaces.
That progress is exemplified to me when I think of the early days, including the story of Sat Hari Singh. A train operator with the MTA, Sat Hari was called a ‘hero of 9/11’ for making a snap decision to drive his passengers away from the chaos unfolding in the city. But in the weeks after the attacks, he soon faced discrimination--his employer refused to let him wear a turban without the MTA logo branded on it. Ultimately, it took a lawsuit to resolve Sat Hari’s situation. And when we were later able to push for city- and state-level laws prohibiting this kind of workplace discrimination, it became just one of many high-impact cases (with others in fields like school bullying and hate violence) where our work to help one person ended up benefiting entire communities.
As always, there is still so much work to be done. Just last week, the FBI dropped new data about hate crimes and bias incidents throughout the United States. The information shows an increase in hate across the board, and once again reinforces how Sikhs remain uniquely vulnerable. Twenty years later, we have made so much progress to better protect our rights, but it’s impossible to ignore the challenges that remain for us in the next 20 years to follow. We also know that in light of recent international events, we have to remain vigilant against hate even now.
Next week, I will be in Mesa, Arizona, to honor another anniversary that every Sikh American also remembers. Balbir Singh Sodhi was planting flowers when he was killed in the first deadly hate crime after 9/11; his loss is still painful years on, and it was a warning for us and so many other vulnerable communities of what we would have to face. Yet his family has persisted in honoring him by building bridges in their city and sharing messages of love and understanding. Their resilience and chardi kala spirit continues to serve as an example to us all. We hope you will join us virtually as we commemorate Balbir ji’s life and legacy.
Twenty years after 9/11, we have made so much progress--but still have more to do together. As we look to the future, my colleagues and I, as always, urge you to practice your faith fearlessly.
The Sikh Coalition
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