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As the United States is becoming more racially and ethnically diversified, community leaders are seeking out new ways to spread awareness and acceptance within their hometowns. In Gurpaul Singh’s mind, the ideal occasion for San Antonio’s Sikh community to showcase its culture was at an event that everyone loves – a Spurs game at the AT&T Center.
“A game seemed like the best venue for us to create a positive touch point for the public with Sikhs in a fun and interesting way,” Gurpaul said.
Thanks to his efforts and the Spurs organization, the last Spurs home game of the season on April 8 started with a group of Sikhs who impressed the crowd of 20,000 people with their rendition of the national anthem.
The Chardi Kala Jatha, a musical group of made up of Sada Sat Simran Singh Khalsa, Hari Mander Jot Singh Khalsa, along with Guruprakash Kaur Khalsa, Guru Sadhana Kaur Khalsa, and Jeeve Singh, came together to share their acapella singing skills.
“One of the challenges about spreading awareness about the Sikh faith is we often find that we are preaching to the choir,” Gurpaul said. “We had to figure out a way to explain our values and share our beliefs on a larger stage.”
Singh said that inviting the Chardi Kala Jatha to sing the national anthem was a way to illustrate the overlap of Sikh and American values – justice, freedom, liberty, and tolerance, for example.
“For me, to turn it down would [have been] selfish,” he said.
“It was such a huge honor and unbelievable opportunity to help represent Sikhs and our love for this country,” Guruprakash Kaur Khalsa said.
Hari Mander Jot echoed the value of the occasion.
“I felt like it was an opportunity to showcase the diversity of the Sikh faith and show people that Americans are Sikhs and Sikhs are American, even though we look different,” he said. “Our jatha [group] in particular stands out because we wear traditional Sikh clothing. I thought it was a good way to show people something other than what is typically shown in the media.”
Some San Antonio Sikhs were worried about the audience reception based on racist remarks that followed the performance by Sebastien De La Cruz, the 11-year-old Mexican-American boy who sang the national anthem at a 2013 Spurs Game. However, the Chardi Kala Jatha said they felt very welcomed.
“I think we were well received,” said Sada Sat Simran. “Everyone who saw us was very supportive. It wasn’t like what happened to Sebastien. We didn’t get that kind of negativity. I think that kid opened up the doors for a little bit more diversity and I think that’s great.”
“It was a wonderful experience,” Hari Mander Jot added. “Seeing the warmth and hospitality was a reminder that America is a loving and accepting country.”
Guruprakash said the San Antonian generosity she experienced calmed her nerves, and the audience’s reaction made her feel firm in her decision to perform. “My favorite part was hearing and feeling the enthusiasm and cheers from the crowd during the anthem and then throughout the evening as so many people came up to us to show their appreciation and support,” she said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
While the Chardi Kala Jatha hails from Española, N.M., singer Jeeve Singh is a first grader born and raised in San Antonio. He asked the Chardi Kala Jatha if he could join them since he had learned the national anthem for a solo performance at his school.
“I was really nervous,” Jeeve said. “I wanted to quit. But then I heard them sing and I thought, ‘They’re so good. I have to do it.’ I’m happy for myself. I’m glad I didn’t quit. I want to do it again many more times.”
Jeeve’s older brother, 9-year-old Darsh Singh, recognized Jeeve’s efforts. “I felt proud that he represented our tradition. Now people will know we are American too.”
The boys’ mother, Jasmeet Kaur, said highlighting the racial and religious diversity of the U.S. was the reason she supported Jeeve’s desire to sing with the Chardi Kala Jatha. “It’s very important to me that kids are not bullied in school because they look different with their turbans or patkas. So, this was a great way to show people who Sikhs are.”
This was the second time the San Antonio Sikh community hosted the Sikh Heritage Night with the Spurs. The organizers included San Antonio natives Gurpaul Singh, Jasmeet Kaur, G.P. Singh, and Parvinder “Winkey” Kaur.
In addition to the national anthem, there was a half time bhangra (Punjabi folk dance) performance by young Sikhs from Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Prior to the bhangra performance, the Spurs announcer talked about Sikh history, culture, and values in an effort to help people understand their Sikh neighbors.
The San Antonio Sikh Community hopes that events like this will highlight the shared American – Sikh values of freedom, religious tolerance, compassion and equality.