This article originally ran on SFGate.com, where Erchi (Archer) Zhang is an intern.
Hundreds of people gathered at Sikh Gurdwara San Jose Wednesday night for an interfaith vigil to remember the six victims fatally shot Sunday in Wisconsin. (Story continues below.)
“We have had hate crimes against the Sikhs since 9/11,” said Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal, one of the directors of the Sikh Temple in San Jose, referring to the murder of a gas station owner in Arizona on Sept. 15, 2001. “But we never thought a big tragedy like this would hit the Sikh community,” Bainiwal said in an interview.
As one of the organizers of the vigil, Bainiwal said the message the Sikh community wants to deliver is that all Americans should “come together” and “get that hatred out of us.”
He estimated that more than a thousand people had come to the temple Wednesday night, partly because of the close tie between the Sikh communities in Wisconsin and San Jose. Two priests who died in the shooting had preached in San Jose in previous years.
In the crowd, many come from various religious groups other than Sikhs. Julie Celebi, who represents the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, said she had no idea there was such a large Sikh community in the Bay Area before attending the vigil. But she said that it’s “inspiring” to see so many people come together to show their support.
“Even though I’m not a Sikh,” Celebi said. “I can understand the senselessness of the tragedy and show my support for their loss, regardless of my faith background.”
At least two other cities in the Bay Area, Fremont and Hayward, held similar vigils Wednesday night, as part of a nationwide remembrance for the shooting.
Bainiwal admits that there is still a lot of work to do to educate Americans who the Sikh Americans are. Sikhs have been in California since the 19th century. They helped build California railroads, and many settled in Central Valley, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Now at a big price, “a lot of Americans do know who the Sikh community is,” Bainiwal said. “And hopefully the misconception that who the Sikhs are will be subdued.”