The weekend before I was elected mayor this month, a flier with the phrase “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town” above a picture of me appeared on car windshields in Hoboken. As a Sikh, I maintain uncut hair and a turban as articles of my faith.
Of course, the fliers were troubling, but I knew they did not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of Hoboken’s residents, nor the views of most Americans. At the time, I spoke out clearly, saying that we were not going to let hate and division win. I wanted people to know that Hoboken is a welcoming community where my wife and I are proud to raise our two young children. No matter your religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, you are welcome here.
In my case, my faith in the fellow residents of my community was rewarded when I won the election, becoming the first turbaned mayor of the Sikh faith ever elected in US history. The community knew me and my record as a city councilman and embraced my ideas and plans for the future.
As a Sikh American and an incoming leader of a large and thriving community, I have to focus on how to move forward. It is important to use incidents like the racist flier and my election as opportunities to affirm the value of living in a diverse nation where we are judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin or how we worship. At this time in our history, when we have a President who seeks to divide us, it is critical that we come together and stand up for American values like diversity. We cannot be complacent as the problems of bigotry and racism persist in our nation.
According to the Sikh Coalition, a US civil rights organization that tracks and combats bigotry, Sikh Americans have witnessed a steady increase in cases of profiling, backlash and hate crimes. Racists in our own country have desecrated Sikh gurdwaras (houses of worship) and brutally assaulted innocent Sikh Americans. Other minority communities have also experienced a step up in racially and religiously motivated incidents.
Sikh Americans have been an integral part of the American fabric for generations. My turban and beard represent my commitment to equality, justice and diversity. These values are not only Sikh, they are also distinctly American. In Hoboken, my faith represents the rich diversity of our community and reinforces why I am so proud to represent the city and its residents.
It will take all of us to stamp out bigotry. In my experience, the best antidote to ignorance is education. It is the many small things, like talking to our friends and neighbors, which each and every one of us can do. These small steps, taken together over time, will make our nation a better place.
We are a nation of immigrants, where each new wave has strengthened and reinvigorated us all. It is important at a time when divisive voices are crowding the public square that celebrate a nation founded on equality. We must continue to call out bigotry and hatred when we see it in our community, but in a manner that reminds us all, in the famous words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, of the “better angels of our nature.”
As mayor of Hoboken, I will stand up for treating everyone in our city equally, civilly and with the respect they deserve. I will add my voice to the many others around the nation speaking up for American values.