While there is no authoritative count of American Sikhs, the Pew Research Center concluded that in 2012 about 200,000 Sikhs (a conservative estimate), primarily of Indian descent, lived within the United States. As signs of faith and social solidarity, many Sikhs adopt the names “Singh” (lion) for men and “Kaur” (princess) for women. A monotheistic world religion which originated in India’s northwestern Punjab region in the late 1400s and early 1500s, Sikhism is a growing faith in Milwaukee. Greater Milwaukee is home to two Sikh temples, or gurdwaras, located in Brookfield and Oak Creek.
The founders of Milwaukee’s Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin arrived in the United States following passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. Forced to leave their homeland, in part by religious strife and violence in India during the 1980s, the local Sikh community grew from roughly five families in the early 1970s to several hundred members in the late 1990s. In 1997, the Sikh Religious Society, which had previously been headquartered on W. Fond du Lac Avenue, dedicated a new gurdwara in Brookfield. In the same year, the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, which had been meeting in Humboldt Park since 1992, began holding services in rented space on Milwaukee’s South Side. The congregation moved into a former credit union on E. Lincoln Avenue in 1999 before completion of its Oak Creek temple in 2007.
With growing numbers, the community became economically and professionally diverse. While many early community members, including founders of the Sikh Religious Society, were university professors and medical professionals, entrepreneurs and small business owners became prominent members of the Sikh community in the 1980s and 1990s. Sikhs owed and operated many Milwaukee gas stations and grocery stores. By the early twenty-first century, Darshan Singh Dhaliwal’s Mequon-based Bulk Petroleum had amassed a nationwide gas station empire of over 800 stations. Before financial difficulties beset him, Dhaliwal had donated substantial sums to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the expansion of Punjabi studies programs. With then-governor Tommy Thompson, Dhaliwal unsuccessfully advocated for the creation of a University of Wisconsin campus in Punjab in the late 1990s.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, American and Milwaukee Sikhs, accustomed to periodic hostility, now faced an elevated threat of violence. Many Sikhs, especially men wearing traditional turbans and beards, were mistakenly identified as Muslim and targeted by retributive assaults. This violence went a step further on Sunday, August 5, 2012 when Wade Michael Page, a man with ties to white supremacist groups, opened fire in the Oak Creek gurdwara, killing six community members, including the temple president, and wounding four others. The attack brought local, national, and international attention to the Sikh community. At vigils and memorials in Oak Creek and Milwaukee as well as at the Brookfield gurdwara, local residents and governmental leaders joined in solidarity. A month after the attack, Harpreet Singh Saini, whose mother died in the attack, spoke before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, successfully requesting that the FBI statistically track hate crimes committed against Sikhs.
- ^ “How Many U.S. Sikhs?,” Pew Research Center website, August 6, 2012, accessed December 13, 2016.
- ^ “Taking Amrit: Initiation,” The Pluralism Project website, Harvard University, accessed December 14, 2016; “Why Do So Many Sikhs Have a Common Name, Singh or Kaur? ,” The Sikh Coalition website, accessed December 14, 2016.
- ^ Gurinder Singh Mann, Paul David Numrich, and Raymond B. Williams, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America: A Short History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 118-119.
- ^ “Contact Us,” Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin website, accessed November 30, 2016; “About Sikh Temple of Wisconsin,” Sikh Temple of Wisconsin website, accessed November 30, 2016.
- ^ Richard L. Kenyon, “Sikhs Celebrate Proud Tradition,” Milwaukee Journal, April 14, 1979; Peter Maller, “Gathering Carries Faith Forward: Despite Misunderstandings, Sikh Community Finds Welcome in U.S.,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 31, 2001.
- ^ Mann et al, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America, 140-141; Sam Martino, “Call to Worship: Temple in Pewaukee to Serve Hindus,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 9, 1997; “About Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.”
- ^ “Sikhs Here in No Mood to Celebrate,” Milwaukee Journal, April 13, 1985; “Waukesha [Photo Caption],” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 10, 1997.
- ^ Crocker Stephenson, “Victims Are Regarded for Faith, Humility and Dedication,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 7, 2012; “About Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.”
- ^ Stephenson, “Victims Are Regarded for Faith, Humility and Dedication”; “About Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.”
- ^ On Sikh immigration, Mann et al., Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America, chapter 8: “Sikhs Come to America.” Sikh Religious Society founding president, Jagmeet Singh Soin, was a doctor and professor of radiology, and founding member Swarnjit Singh Arora is a professor of economics. Richard L. Kenyon, “Sikhs Celebrate Proud Tradition,” Milwaukee Journal, April 14, 1979, and Peter Maller, “Gathering Carries Faith Forward: Despite Misunderstandings, Sikh Community Finds Welcome in U.S.,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 31, 2001.
- ^ “4 Sikhs Have Died at Stores,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 25, 1996; Martino, “Call to Worship.”
- ^ Gurmukh Singh, The Global Indian: The Rise of Sikhs Abroad (New Delhi, India: Rupa & Co., 2003), 153.
- ^ Singh, The Global Indian, 153-155; Martino, “Call to Worship”; Raquel Rutledge, “In Bankruptcy Sale, Gas Stations Auctioned to Ex-Owner’s Cousin,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 15, 2010.
- ^ Steven Walters, “Thompson Plan to Bring UW to India Criticized,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 11, 1999; “Dhaliwal a Full-Service Donor for Thompson,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 14, 2007, http://archive.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/29322959.html, last accessed December 2016.
- ^ Deepa Iyer, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future (New York, NY: New Press, 2015), 13-18; Maller, “Gathering Carries Faith Forward.”
- ^ For examples of media coverage, see Stephen A. Scaffidi, Six Minutes in August: A Story of Tragedy, Healing and Community (Milwaukee: Marketpoint Media, 2015), 7-8, 29-30, 31-35, 50-51. For organizational response, see Iyer, We Too Sing America, 5-8. For political response, see Scaffidi, Six Minutes in August, 14-18, 61. See also Waking in Oak Creek, directed by Patrice O’Neill (Oakland, CA: Not in Our Town, 2014).
- ^ Lisa Sink, “Brookfield Sikh Temple Overflows with People, Support at Vigil,” Brookfield Patch, August 7, 2012; Emily Eggleston, “Hundreds Gather at Vigil for Sikh Temple Shooting Victims,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 5, 2012; Scaffidi, Six Minutes in August, 55-70; Waking in Oak Creek.
- ^ Iyer, We Too Sing America, 21-22; Waking in Oak Creek.
For Further Reading
Iyer, Deepa. We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. New York: New Press, 2015.
Scaffidi, Stephen A. Six Minutes in August: A Story of Tragedy, Healing and Community. Milwaukee: Marketpoint Media, 2015.
Singh, Gurmukh. The Global Indian: The Rise of Sikhs Abroad. New Delhi, India: Rupa & Co., 2003.
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