After 9/11, there’s been a lot of hate crimes against Sikhs…

I’m Sikh, by the way, and our community here was getting larger and larger, and getting more politically active in helping candidates, like doing fundraisers for candidates for our local county supervisors or senators, especially after 9/11. After 9/11, there’s been a lot of hate crimes against Sikhs. They wear turbans, so people assume they’re Muslim. Like my mom, she’s by herself, and somebody threw fireworks in her driveway. She called us freaking out so we went over there, stuff like that. My husband worked out in Bakersfield, and we went to lunch in the white part of town that’s, you know, broken down. We went to lunch one day at Carl’s Junior and we walked in, and I kid you not, it was right after 9/11, everybody quit what they were doing to stare at us. We turned around and walked out. We were shocked. I remember Indians having conversations going “I wonder if this is what those black people feel like.” I have a cousin who wore a turban, he got in a physical altercation.  They wouldn’t let him in the club, they were like “Take off your hat.” He’s like “what hat,” and then they said, “the turban or whatever that thing is.” It’s religious. It got to the point where they no longer went downtown, no longer went out. It was really bad.

So then the Sikh community decided we needed to reach out to the local elected officials here to let them know, wait a minute you know, we’re not Muslim. You shouldn’t treat Muslims like that either. We’re not terrorists. So what happened is we’d had some people call in the sheriff, the mayor, to say we’d have an outreach here, do some informational sessions to talk to the police officers or the sheriff’s department about our community because we were getting harassed and there were a lot of issues happening. Like some of the older men in town would ride bikes, get an egg thrown at them, I mean just really horrible. Temples were getting ransacked, it was really bad.

So from there we started meeting more of our assembly people and county supervisors, and people would organize and do fund raisers and it started getting me a little politically active. I think before that, it was assumed we’re just here to work. We’re not here to be in politics, we just work, make our money and that’s it. So after that, like I said there was this big movement and we started meeting a lot of the senate and other people coming to our events at our churches and our little festivals. They’d come out and speak to us and my dad, politically I guess he’s a contributor to a lot of the county supervisors and we’d meet them and things like that. Somebody told me, “Well you should run for city council,” because at my store, I knew everybody. Everybody would come in and talk politics. You know, you sit down at lunch and you talk to the guy from the post office or even the store, and everybody would come in and complain about stuff with the city. Roads were the number one issue here. We have some bad roads here. So everybody was coming in all the time and we talk about everything anyway constantly. And they’re like “You should run, you should run.” I said “I have to talk to my dad,” and he’s like “You should run, why not? You should do it. It should be interesting, you know, you learn a lot.” My husband was like “Yeah, you should run, it would be neat.” I’m like “It’s cool, we’ll help the town out, you know, get more economy….” That was our whole issue, to give the town a facelift.

I had run for city council and then a few months later after I won, we had one of the environmental justice advocates come out to one of our council meetings. Daniela came out, and she informed us that we have like the worst air in the nation, so we said, “Really?” We were pretty surprised and it almost didn’t seem real. We’re like, “OK, come on, OK, you’re kidding. Where did you get that from?” She goes “No seriously, you guys have the worst, highest number of ozone violations than any other city in the US.” First I think we were just shocked, then we started getting a little upset because we weren’t informed by the air district. And so from there, I think, the curiosity kind of sprang up. Well you know, if we have this local air district that supposedly does outreach – well how come they never came to our community?

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