“How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants an abortion: mandatory 48-hour waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he is about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence. Then, we should close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun.” – Gloria Steinem
The Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio mass shootings of the past week marked the 249th, 250th and 251st mass shootings in the United States for 2019. Coinciding with 7th anniversary of the Sikh Temple Massacre in Oak Creek, Darryl Morin, President of Forward Latino, released a public statement on social media that declared the situation as an “Epidemic of Hate” in the country.
Seven years ago today, lives would change, including mine, although I did not fully realize it at the time.
On August 5, 2012, a beautiful Sunday while worshippers were gathering to give thanks to the Lord above for their many blessings, a white supremacist walked into the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin killing 6 people, and wounding 4 others before taking his own life. Law enforcement would later learn he gunmen took their lives because he thought they were Muslim.
This weekend, as part of the annual remembrance of the tragedy, I was attending a powerful and moving one-person performance called “Rag Head: An American Story.” The story is an adaptation for the stage of the events of August 5, 2012. As I was sitting down in my seat before the performance began, I made the mistake of checking my phone one last time. That is when I saw the news.
I received a CNN Alert regarding an active shooter in El Paso, Texas and that a large number of individuals had been wounded and many feared dead.
As I sat in my seat watching the stirring performance by Sundeep Morrison who brilliantly plays the roles of multiple family members who experienced loss in the Sikh Temple shooting, I could not help but feel a great sadness. Morrison through her impactful performance took us through the hardships the family had to overcome as they tried to fit in, tried to advance professionally, and tried to be supportive of law enforcement. Yet it seemed, no matter their efforts, there was always a suspicion of their presence, and fore that a constant fear lingered for their personal safety.
I remember as a child, learning about great wrongs that once occurred in our country and how people died because of how they looked or where they came from. I also remember being grateful that I didn’t have to worry because that was a long time ago. Sadly, I now see things slightly differently.
Over the years I have come to know not one, but numerous families who literally, not metaphorically, lost a loved one because of how they looked or spoke. I have received urgent calls from school administrators asking for guidance as scores of children from grade school to college were being bullied, threatened and beaten for looking “Mexican” or having Spanish sounding names. As a parent, I stopped to imagine how I would feel if one of my children were to come home bruised and bloodied for no reason but the color of their skin, or their name.
Yes the experience has changed me.
I used to believe that there was a universal understanding among Americans as to what it meant to be a good American. That despite our politics or faiths, we were part of a social compact, that there was an understanding on key principles and rights that were granted not to some, but to all. Yet it has become obvious this is no longer the case.
Hispanic and African Americans have fought in every U.S. war including the Revolutionary War. Sikh have fought in every war since our nation’s independence. They have sacrificed for our nation’s principles, they love our country, they are part of our country. Yet there are those who refuse to acknowledge the sacrifice, the contributions. There are those who are now choosing to act on hateful rhetoric as the doctrine of white supremacy is being passively defended, and with it, a belief that to be an American is to be White, speak English and to belong to certain religions.
As we reflect on the tragic anniversary of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, and pray for the lost and injured from three new communities in the last eight days, I humbly ask that we recommit ourselves to living our faith. Please defend the precious gift that the Lord gave each person at the moment of conception – human dignity – and protect that human dignity whether at home, school, or work. We cannot be a truly great country if it is only great for a select few.