Members of the Sikh community of Somerville, Massachusetts
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Sikhism is a religion originating from South Asia (predominantly from the Punjab region of modern-day India and Pakistan) which was introduced into the United States during the 19th century. In 2007, there were estimated to be between 250,000 and 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States, with largest populations living on the East and West Coasts, together with additional populations in Detroit, Chicago, Houston and Austin. The United States also has a number of non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism.
Sikh men are typically identifiable by their unshorn beards and turbans (head coverings), articles of their faith. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and subsequent other terrorism related activities by Islamic groups, Sikhs have often been mistaken as Muslims or Arabs, and have been subject to several hate crimes, including murders. Sikh temples have also been targets of violence due to being mistaken for mosques. A 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin garnered national and international attention, with then President Obama ordering flags to be half-staffed at all federal buildings.
Sikhs have served in the United States military at least as far back as the early 20th century, when one Bhagat Singh Thind, who though not a citizen joined the United States Army and served in World War I. Thind requested citizenship at the end of the war, being granted and revoked twice, before finally being naturalized in 1936. Far larger numbers of Sikhs served in World War II, and all American wars following.
The ability of observant Sikhs to serve in the American military has, since 1985, been compromised by a discontinuation of exemptions to uniform standards which previously allowed Sikhs to maintain their religiously-mandated beards and turbans while in uniform. As of 2010, a Sikh doctor, Kamaljeet S. Kalsi, and dentist, Tejdeep Singh Rattan, are the only Sikh officers to be permitted to serve in uniform with beard and turban. In addition, Simranpreet Lamba was permitted to enlist, with exemption to wear his turban and beard, in 2010 due to his knowledge of Punjabi and Hindi.
In 2016, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) began to allow turbans, subject to standards compatible with unimpeded performance of duty. In 2015, Sandeep Dhaliwal became the first Deputy Sherrif in Texas to wear a turban on duty (Harris County Sherriff's Office). He was shot from behind in 2019 while conducting a routine traffic stop on the Copperbrook subdivision in Houston Texas.
Many Sikhs started life in America working in lumber mills, mines, and as farm laborers, with many eventually becoming landowners. Many early Sikh immigrants were restaurant owners. In 1956, Dalip Singh Saund became the first Asian Indian-born person to be elected to the United States House of Representatives.
The most concentrated Sikh community in the United States has traditionally resided in agricultural Yuba City, California, although this agglomeration has since dispersed as Sikhs have gained a greater educational foundation, enabling them to have now spread out to metropolitan areas all over the United States. The largest and most rapidly growing Sikh community in New York City is based in the Richmond Hill area of the borough of Queens; the majority consist of more recent emigres from India and Canada. Conversely, in the Sikh Foundation of Virginia, most members comprise both recent and more established Jatt Sikhs and Ramgarhia Sikhs. Most Sikhs of Española, New Mexico are non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism.
Sikhs have been a part of the American populace for more than 130 years. Near the end of the 19th century, the state of Punjab of British India was hit hard by British practices of mercantilism. Many Sikhs emigrated to the United States and began arriving to work on farms in California. They traveled via Hong Kong to Angel Island, California, the western counterpart to Ellis Island in New York Harbor.
Some Sikhs worked in lumber mills of Oregon or in railroad construction and for some Sikhs it was on a railway line, which allowed other Sikhs who were working as migrant laborers to come into the town on festival days.[unreliable source?]
A big effect on Sikh migration to the western states occurred during World War I and World War II, where Sikhs were recruited by the British Army to serve for them. Sikhs fought bravely during these wars and began to live in England after their serving period. Among the Sikhs who already lived in America prior to the wars, many Sikhs joined them, mainly during World Wars I and II. Among those who served in the US military include Bhagat Singh Thind in World War I.
Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner, was killed on September 15, 2001 due to being mistaken for a Muslim. In a 2011 report to the United States Senate, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported several assaults and incidents of arson at Sikh temples after September 11. All were labeled as hate crimes that resulted from the perpetrators' misconceptions that their targets were Muslim. In August 2012, a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was the site of a shooting, leading to six Sikh individuals being killed. On May 7, 2013, an elderly Sikh man was attacked with an iron bar in Fresno, California in a possible hate crime. On September 21, 2013, Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh professor was attacked in Harlem, New York by a group of 20-30 men who branded him as "Osama" and Terrorist".
A 2007 survey of Sikh students by the Sikh Coalition found that three out of four male students interviewed "had been teased or harassed on account of their religious identity." In 2014, the Sikh Coalition released a national report on the bullying of Sikh children in American schools. The report found that 55.8% of Sikh students surveyed in Indianapolis reported being bullied, while 54.5% of Sikh students surveyed in Fresno, California reported being bullied. According to the surveys, Sikh students wearing turbans are twice as likely to be bullied as the average American child.
In the 1960s, due to increased Indian immigration and rising interest in Indian spirituality in the American counterculture, a number of non-Punjabi Americans began to enter 3HO. Prominent in this trend was Yogi Bhajan, leader of the Sikh-related movement 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization), whose Los Angeles temple was the first to introduce non-Punjabi Americans to Sikhism.