Ever since they arrived in the U.S. as farmers and lumber mill workers in the late 19th century, Sikhs have struggled with how little Americans knew about the faith.
In 1907, a mob in Bellingham, Wash., who called Sikhs “the Hindus,” ran them out of town. (Bellingham officials apologized formally 100 years later.)
Over time, they established themselves in the United States with major temples from Boston to California. Still, they remained a small, often misunderstood community, readily identifiable by their turbans. During the 1970s Iranian hostage crisis, Americans often mistook Sikhs for Iranians. Vandals attacked some temples after the Oklahoma City bombing, committed by white U.S. Army veteran Timothy McVeigh.
So when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, the Sikh community immediately began organizing, working closely with U.S. Arabs and Muslims on domestic anti-terror policies that respect civil rights.
“When you walk out, all eyes are on you. You get used to it, but it’s tough,” said Vishavjit Singh, a Sikh software engineer from White Plains, N.Y. “I’ve had people calling me `Osama’ and saying, `Go back home.'”
The massacre Sunday at the suburban Milwaukee Sikh temple left six Sikhs dead and several people wounded, including a police officer who responded to the scene. Authorities have identified the gunman as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran described by civil rights groups as a neo-Nazi and white supremacist. Police have called the attack Sunday an act of domestic terrorism.
For Sikhs, the attack was the latest — and worst — of a string of horrific assaults on their community. Many of the recent attacks have been outright hate crimes. Others remain unsolved.
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