Saturday will see thousands of Sikhs march down the streets of Manhattan in the annual New York City Sikh Parade. The parade celebrates the Sikh New Year, or Vaisakhi. On the same day tens of thousands of free vegetarian meals will be given out. But the parade isn’t only about good music and free meals. It’s also about changing perceptions of a community long plagued by suspicion and bias in America.
Outside the Gurdwara , in South Richmond, Queens, it’s raining, and a bit gloomy. Inside is a different story.
AMBI OF SINGING AND COOKING
Downstairs from the main area of worship, the kitchen is crowded. In the center of the room is a 5 foot high heap of spinach and mustard greens.
Men in turbans are stirring giant vats of daal and saag with mallets the size of shovels.
Women sit on the floor chopping cabbage or stand, patting bread dough into flat round disks, which the men throw on the fire.
They also slap thousands of roti bread dough into round disks, which the men throw onto the fire to cook.
They’re cooking free meals for the over 15,000 people coming to watch the parade tomorrow.
And the community is giving it all for free. Mr. Singh, the a leader at the Gurndwara, says that serving free food is an important reminder of the Sikh belief in equality.
You just come in and you eat like everybody else same food doesn’t matter you can be a millionaire or billionaire or it doesn’t matter and that is what Sikhism teaches you that equality, not in theory but practically.
But these aren’t easy times in the Sikh community. Hate crimes against Sikhs rose sharply after 9/11, and again after the 2016 presidential election. Singh says he too has been on the receiving end of bigotry.
Well yeah I have been called Osama bin Laden a million times maybe more than that.
But he also sees signs of positive change. Hoboken just elected a Sikh mayor. He will be marching in the parade tomorrow along with everyone else; celebrating new strides the Sikh community has made in New York. In 2016 the city began allowing officers to wear their turbans on duty. And although there was an uptick in hate crimes this year, Singh remains optimistic..
Yeah there is there is always uptick back and forth. And this election has been a really hard one for us no doubt about it. But at the same time it runs in our genes that we don’t give up.
The Sikh Parade begins tomorrow at 11am. They will march from 58th and Madison to 23rd street, where they will be serving meals.
Eileen Grench, Columbia Radio News.