I was very happy to see a young Sikh American named Gurpreet Singh Sarin nicknamed ‘ Turbanator ’ on American Idol. He has set out to spread Sikh Awareness in his own artistic way. I had recently watched him on American Idol. Gurpreet appears to have decided to sing it all the way! As I watched this video, I couldn’t help but think back to a few months ago when I attended the Western Scholars Conference 2012: Sikh journey in America, hosted at University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.
In celebration of the centennial anniversary of Stockton Gurduara, founded in October 24, 1912, the conference was organized by the Sikh-American Research Center of the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society and Stockton Gurduara Centennial Committee. I had driven down to the conference with my wife and we were both very appreciative of the Sikh American youth volunteers from local schools, colleges and universities, who welcomed the guests at the registration front desk with a genuine smile, and conducted and moderated presentations in a timely and professional manner. It is very uplifting to my spirits to know that this generation is taking up the mantel and does not run everything with Indian Standard Time!
The conference understandably, revolved around the founding of the Stockton Sikh Temple and the formation of the Ghadar Party in 1912/13 in California. We were delighted to see the conference hall packed and well attended with more than a dozen distinguished speakers, who made thought provoking power point presentations. Although I did not agree with some of the scholars who in their own dramatic way, tried to redefine the Ghadarites, their motives and thus rewrite the history as if it were. My attention was specifically drawn to the presentation by Dr. Harold A. Gould, of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Referring to the Oakcreek Sikh Temple tragedy, he said that no one could even pronounce the name of our religion properly when the news first came out that an unidentified gunman had murdered five members of the Sikh faith within the confines of their temple in a Milwaukie suburb in Wisconsin.
He went on to say that most Americans, and even most members of the press, had no accurate idea of who and what the Sikhs are. Media reporters couldn’t pronounce the community’s name properly-calling them ‘Seeks’ or some variation of that. “At most,” he had said, “they probably knew that Sikhs are originally from some part of India, who came to this country, God knows how and when, as immigrants of some kind. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney more than once called them “Sheiks”(a Muslim term for an Arab leader) instead of “Sikhs”(the name of their cultural community)!” These words repeated in my head as I watched the Turbanator very funnily charm Nicky Minaj by telling her he had a turban the color of her hair!
Following a huge backlash of Oakcreek, where many condemned this heinous crime at Milwaukee with pouring in of sympathy and goodwill from all quarters –from marching down City Hall to the White House. There started to be a lot of talk about the Sikhs in America in the media, and an honest look at who we are. A significant legislation pertaining to Sikh Awareness and to include necessary information about Sikhi in the Public School Curriculum in California which had been kept at the back burner for years was swiftly passed by the legislature, largely because of this media attention. Equally swiftly it was signed in to law by the California Governor Jerry Brown last year in November 2012. There is a long way to getting it all right but at least, American press and general public now can finally pronounce the name right.
It takes a century, tragic and ironical as it is, the proverbial Duddu (frog) is finally out of the well and well into the main stream America. The Sikh journey in America and beyond is now on the move. But where did it all begin? As Sikhs living in the Diaspora especially in America, do we really appreciate it or are we really even fully aware of it? That has to go back to the Ghadrites era or even before, when the circumstances drove ordinary field and saw-mill Indian workers (called Hindoos) to become radicalized and began to turn to human right activists and Ghadrites. But that is the subject of a separate post.
While it may not seem like Gurpreet Singh Sarin, “The Turbanator,” is a cultural or religious ambassador for Sikhs or Sikh-Americans, I believe he is presenting a wonderful message to all Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. That we are all human and you should never judge a book by its cover. During the time of Guru Gobind Singh and during the struggle for Independence, it was time to take up arms. In the 21st century, today, may be it is time to pick up the ‘Rabab’ again and sing! Let us wish American Idol hopeful, Gurpreet Singh Sarin “The Turbanator,” the best of luck in his creative endeavour and for presenting a loving and wonderful image of Sikhs to the world! As always let me know your thoughts on my face book or on my website.