Livingston

Livingston’s Sikhs reach out to their neighbors with food and smiles

Gurpreet Sodhi, 18, of Livingston speaks to a nearby resident about the Sikh religion at the Sikh Temple Livingston on Saturday.
Gurpreet Sodhi, 18, of Livingston speaks to a nearby resident about the Sikh religion at the Sikh Temple Livingston on Saturday. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Education is perhaps the best weapon against hate, but pizza probably doesn’t hurt.

A few dozen students gathered at the Sikh Temple Livingston on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to thank the temple’s neighbors with pizza and other food, and to try to educate people on the Sikh religion.

On Friday, Livingston High School and Merced College students took more than 100 pizzas to the doors of strangers and invited them to an open house the next day at the temple.

“We actually have a very supportive community,” organizer Jasmin Kaur said. “We are thanking them for always supporting (us).”

The 22-year-old community organizer from the nonprofit Jakara Movement said Livingston has mostly avoided any incidents of hate, perhaps because the Punjabi and Sikh communities are relatively large there. Sikhs make up about 20 percent of the population, according to church leaders.

We actually have a very supportive community. We are thanking them for always supporting (us).

Jasmin Kaur, community organizer from the nonprofit Jakara Movement

Not all communities have been immune to hate speech or violence. Police in the city of Kent, Wash., are investigating the March 3 shooting of a Sikh man as a hate crime and the FBI has joined the investigation. The man was working on his car in his driveway when a masked man approached him, shot him in the arm and said “go back to your own country,” The Associated Press reported.

A deadly shooting in a suburban Kansas City, Mo., bar that the FBI is also investigating as a hate crime was racially motivated, authorities said. Witnesses to the shooting, which left an Indian man dead and another wounded, reported the suspect yelled “get out of my country” before he opened fire, according to the Kansas City Star.

Kaur said the students hoped their efforts this week would lead to a better understanding of Sikhs, and curb any potential violence.

Wearing an orange bandanna after coming out of the Sikh temple on Friday was Harry Atwal, a junior at Livingston High. He said name-calling is not a problem at school, but many students can’t differentiate Sikhs from Hindus or even Muslims.

There’s no disrespect going on. They just don’t know what we’re really about.

Harry Atwal, 16, a junior at Livingston High

“I feel like they don’t really know about us,” the 16-year-old said. “There’s no disrespect going on. They just don’t know what we’re really about.”

One example of a misconception is how the word “Sikh” is pronounced. Sikh is pronounced like “sick,” and not as it’s commonly misspoken as “seek.”

Temple leaders also note that Sikhs are not newcomers to Merced County with the first coming to work on farms and the railroad more than 100 years ago. But Sikhs continue to try to distinguish themselves from Muslims in a nation where some are fearful of men with long beards and turbans.

Gurpreet Sodhi, 18, said she noticed a marked dip in awareness when she left Livingston High to start at Merced College, where the Sikh population is smaller. So, handing out food and inviting people to tour the temple on Saturday was a way to try educate others.

Sikhism, which promotes equality, compassion and tolerance, is the world’s fifth-largest religion.

“We come from different cultures and aspects of life,” she said.

Sikhism, which promotes equality, compassion and tolerance, is the world’s fifth-largest religion. It was started in the Punjab region of northern India and eastern Pakistan. More than 30,000 Sikhs live in the central San Joaquin Valley.

A smile crept across the face of Maria Melo on Friday as she was handed a free pizza from a few Sikh teens. The 53-year-old Hilmar resident was in Livingston visiting a friend.

She said she passes by the temple often, and appreciated the tomato pie.

“I think it’s pretty nice,” she said. “They’re just letting people know what they stand for.”

Later this month is the 19th annual Sikh Festival, which features lively music and displays of sword fighting, and is another chance to learn about the religion. It begins at noon on March 26 at the temple, 2765 Peach Ave.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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