Friday, April 14, 2017

TGIF FEATURE: If you are Sikh - Happy Vaisakhi; ad campaign launched

TODAY (APRIL 14) marks the start of the Sikh New Year, Vaisakhi, during which millions in the United States and around the world celebrate the spring harvest and the birth of the global Sikh community. 

Timed to be launched on this new year's day, is  a $1.3 million series of powerful commercials, "We Are Sikhs." The awareness campaign seeks to stop hate-fueled attacks by explaining more about who Sikhs are and what they believe.

The advertising campaign was years in the making, funded by Sikh/American leaders and their families across a dozen U.S. communities, who are being mistaken for Muslims and are victims of the anti-Muslim sentiment that has arisen since the September 11 attacks and inflamed by the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the political campaigns. 

Their beards and turbans - symbols of equality in a religion that opposes India's caste system - make Sikh/Americans easy targets for the angry and uninformed.

"Our hope was that as the memory of 9/11 goes down, things would get better. But they have not," said Rajwant Singh, a dentist from suburban Washington and one of the campaign's volunteer organizers.

The TV and Internet ads will air on CNN, Fox News and on TV stations in Fresno, California, home to perhaps the largest Sikh community in the U.S. The plan is to release the campaign in other cities that have large Sikh/American communities.

The overall tenor of the ads is positive rather than dwelling on the 300 hate crimes reported by Sikhs in the US since the 2001 terrorist attacks. The ads feature Sikh families explaining how the world's fifth-largest religion, founded in India, aligns with American values.

One of the men featured in an ad says, "We teach our kids the American values go hand in hand with the Sikh values: tolerance, religious freedom, gender equality."

Another ad highlights Sikhs embracing U.S. pop culture: "We like 'Game of Thrones'," one person says. "I'm obsessed with 'Star Wars'," says another. Watch one of the ads, below:

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) released the following statements:

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., CAPAC Chair:
“As Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and a founder of the Congressional American Sikh Caucus, I wish a happy Vaisakhi to everyone celebrating today! Sikh Americans have made innumerable contributions to strengthening the fabric of our nation and represent the best of America. It is an honor to join Sikhs across the country and around the world to celebrate this joyous occasion!”

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., CAPAC Whip:
“Happy Vaisakhi to all those celebrating at home and around the world! I am proud that many Sikhs call California home and join them in celebrating the harvest festival.”

Rep.. Joe Crowley, D-NY, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus:
“Wishing a happy Vaisakhi to those celebrating in New York City and across the country. On this historically significant day, I remember the many contributions the Sikh community has made to our promote justice and equality in county and around the world.”

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.:
“As people around the world celebrate the creation of Khalsa and the harvest festival, I am proud to mark the gains made this year by the Sikh community. Happy Vaisakhi!”
Rep. Grace Meng, D-NY:
“It gives me great pleasure to wish the Sikh community in New York and throughout the world a very happy Vaisakhi. On this important day, I’m proud to recognize and salute the tremendous accomplishments and contributions that Sikhs have and continue to make to our nation. May everybody who observes the holiday have a joyous and prosperous celebration.”

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.:
“I want to wish our Sikh community in the Puget Sound Region and around the world a Happy Vaisakhi! This annual spring gathering celebrates the importance of justice, prosperity, and equality for all people. I thank the Sikh community for their contributions to the culturally rich and diverse 9th Congressional District. I am honored to join in celebrating our Sikh/American neighbors on one of the most historically significant days for the Sikh community.”