Starting off this week, our topic shifted to religion and pluralism from racial and societal injustices. In our lesson, we watched a movie made by our guest speaker of the day, Valarie Kaur, before having a skype interview with her. The movie is called, “Divided We Fall.” She had made this movie to raise awareness about the hate crimes and discrimination toward Sikhs in the United States after 9/11. Being part of the religion herself, it had affected her as well. This hate has been occurring before this tragic incident but only had elevated to extreme measures afterward. She went around the country and even India, interviewing people about their experiences and reactions to the surrounding hate developing and growing. This entire experience was completely dangerous and throughout the entire her time she was putting her own life in jeopardy for the social justice Sikhs all over the nation and world.
Watching the movie itself was raw and real. You’re able to tell and actually see the hate, ignorance, and discrimination in a first person perspective; it was eye opening. Exactly four days after 9/11, September 15, was the first day that a person of the Sikh religion was confirmed dead. His name was Balbir Singh Sodhi. He worked at a gas station in Mesa, Arizona and was very Patriotic. His brother had convinced him to come to America to start a better life away from the religion wars occurring in India. After hearing about the attacks on the Twin Towers and World Trade Center, he went to Costco around 9:00 AM the same day of his death and donated seventy-five dollars to the American Red Cross and had hung up an American Flag in front of and inside his store. He was killed by Frank Roque and was sentenced to death row but now has a life sentencing instead. This was also the day where people actually drew the courage to leave their homes and gather together where the death of Sodhi was announced. Hearing that news finally broke the people or even more than they already were.
From that point on, the discrimination only grew worse. People were beaten, hurt, and even stabbed including people who associated with Sikhs. Gurdwaras were trespassed and vandalized in disrespect. The names in which they were called was derogatory and ignorant. The people assumed that everyone with a turban and brown skin was a “terrorist” and Muslim unaware that the people they were targeting was a completely different religion itself. A man was even chased from Manhattan into Brooklyn, an area he didn’t know well, in fear for his life because the people were following him because he wore a turban and would not take it off for religious purposes. In response they had associated him with being a terrorist because it was claimed that was the same reasoning the terrorists used for doing what they did.
Making matters worse was the fact that even elderly and children were being targets of this social problem. Valarie interviewed a young boy and voiced his experience with handling the societal issue. He spoke out saying that other children were hitting him in the face with their lunch boxes calling him a “terrorist.” When he witnessed on the television the fire blowing out one of the Twin Towers, he looked to his dad and asked, “Why do they keep bombing everyone? Why can’t they leave us alone and stop?” Hearing those words come from a child is concerning. The fact that children of that young age are treating other children that way or are picking up on their surrounding areas is scary. They should not even have to be witnessing or acting in that type of way. This proves the societal ignorance is affecting kids at a young age, which can tamper with their perspectives as they grow even older. It’s all extremely horrifying.
It grew to the point where Sikhs needed to take matters into their own hands. They tried reaching out to the government and President Bush for help rising from this painful time; all the government did was ignore this issue as if the fatality of the hate never even existed. They allowed these crimes to continue. Leaders of from different Gurdwaras were speaking out about this issue across the nation. Their words had given their people a light of hope that they needed. They were all American people too; their religious backgrounds should not have any relation with who they are as citizens. Racist people would claim that being American was the Christian way and actually believed that Sikhs weren’t American. In the reality of it all, people of all race, gender, and religion are equal; God is one.
What stood out to me the most was when Valarie pointed out that a certain group will always become discriminated against. People will find a way to blame others for something that they don’t fully understand themselves and for their anger and hurt boiling inside them. This reminded me of the discrimination of what occurred after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. People were cruel to not only Japanese people, but the whole Asian race. Along with Germans after WWII. History is always repeating itself no matter the efforts of preventing such disasters from before.
During our Skype session, eight of us had questions lined up to ask Valarie; I was one of them. My question was one she probably got often but really intrigued me because if I put myself in her position, I’m not sure if I could have pulled off what she did. “How were you able to stay strong with all of the ignorance surrounding you?” If I was in her position I know I would have broken down and felt so alone. Frustrated and hurt with how harsh and stubborn people and disrespected are the feelings that came to mind watching and hearing her story. The way she answered all our questions was with a story. She believed that stories were a way of bringing people together.
She started off with her grandfather. He came to America and settled in Columbus, California. He was very popular among people and no one ever discriminated against him. The people back then cared about and for one another and actually knew each other or made an effort to. Now no one hardly ever makes an effort to do any of that. Everything and answers to our questions began to flow in place as she spoke. As she came to answer my question, you can see how genuine she was in her eyes. She told me that she wasn’t strong. She put her life on the line and was terrified. Sometimes she felt like locking herself in her room and try hiding from the world. To this day, she still cries about the hate that she and her culture has received. The way she was able to get through it wasn’t alone. She had her cousin, Sonny, who went along with her on the journey and they encountered and accomplished everything together.
Valarie’s story is an extreme influence to me. I want to be able to make an empowering change or raise awareness and make an actual difference in the lives who are underrepresented. She had thanked us for watching the video and that sharing it was help enough. Seeing activism like this makes life so much better and aspires hope all around the word that I pray one day we will achieve.