Tracy and Mountain House residents are invited to learn about the culture, traditions and heritage of their Sikh neighbors at a “Meet the Sikh Next Door” community event next weekend.

Jagdeep Sahota, from Mountain House, a member of the greater Sikh community in the area, said the outreach day from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Tracy Community Center, 950 East St., is free and open to everyone. Similar meetings have been organized in Stockton and Manteca.

“The effort is to try and get the mainstream community members, our neighbors, to come out and get some awareness of the heritage and the culture of the Sikhs,” he said.

He said the need became clear when Parmjit Singh, a Tracy man who immigrated from India, was killed Aug. 25 in Gretchen Talley Park.

“One of the first tweets that Tracy police even put out at 5 a.m. had mentioned him as a Middle Eastern,” he said. “We felt that like maybe the people who reported it couldn’t identify him properly, but then the Tracy police should have been able to identify him.”

The police later corrected their description of Singh. A local Sikh organization planned a public memorial gathering that filled the park a few days later.

“From there, I think the idea was this is not about preaching or conversion or religious education, this is about cultural association,” Sahota said.

The Oct. 13 event will begin with an hour of networking followed by a keynote address on living Sikh in America by J.J. Kapur. Kapur, a student at Stanford University and a national oratory champion, will talk about his experiences growing up in Des Moines, Iowa.

Presentations that follow will cover the history, heritage, values and culture of Sikhs, including in California’s Central Valley. Local Sikhs will speak about their lives, and a panel will answer questions from the audience.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to learn about each other,” Sahota said. “It’s an open learning environment. It’s a good place to come out and learn, ask questions and make a few friends.”

One of the organizers’ goals is to get community groups and younger people, including high schoolers, to attend.

“So we can have an open conversation that we’re part of the American fabric, this is a community that we live and grow up in, and build that understanding,” Sahota said.

He said there will be a heavy emphasis on cultural awareness. Volunteers will take turns tying three different types of turbans, one of the most recognizable aspects of Sikh culture.

“Trying to take the mystery of: What is that turban? How is it tied? How long is your hair? — which is the most common question asked,” he said. “Who we are, how we dress, what significance does a turban have, the bracelet, why do we wear it, and a little bit of history on when Sikhs came to America and what kind of things they do.”

Sahota cited an attack on a 71-year-old Sikh man in Manteca by teenagers in early August as another example of the need to reach out to the youth.

“It’s been the younger kids, so to speak, the teenagers, so we want to build that understanding and make it safer for Sikh kids to go to school and not face bullying, because everyone understands what’s underneath his turban or why he looks weird with his beard growing,” he said. “If everyone knows, then he’s not the odd man out at the Tracy High School or West or other places.”

Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 835-3030.

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