Colorado Sikhs celebrate a growing community, and recognition

4 min. read
Naureen Singh looks back at the crowd during the Vaisakhi celebration. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) guru; indian; sikh; faith; holiday; religion; parade; denver; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty

Naureen Singh looks back at the crowd during the Vaisakhi celebration. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

It's all about having a presence for the members of Colorado Singh Saba, the Sikh community based out of a temple in Commerce City. On May 22 the group put on its first parade in state history, an effort to teach locals about their culture and celebrate their growing population.

Ladies sit on the floor in the East High School gym, listening to song and sermon. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Men ceremoniously dressed as the Panj Pyare, or the "Five Beloved Ones," the first to be baptized as Sikhs. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A procession of temple officials carry the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's holy text, into an SUV destined for East High School where the first Sikh Parade will begin. The scripture is carried overhead because noone should to be higher than it, especially during celebration of the Vaisakhi holiday, the harvest festival that celebrates the religion's official inauguration in 1699. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

After 9/11, Sikhs became targets of xenophobic attacks, often confused with Muslims by assailants. Public events like this provide an opportunity for understanding, and respect, to take root.

The Panj Pyare enter East High School, leading the procession carrying the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's holy text, into the school gym which is set up for a ceremony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jasmeet Bajwa tapes signs listing Instagram and Twitter hashtags for would-be social media sharers. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Naureen Singh sees herself as an average American 21-year-old, but that's not always how she was treated. "I was bullied in school because of my faith," she said. "It's something that's just showed me that even though I'm an American and I identify as an American, people always look at me as an outsider first." But, she says, after a mass shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in 2012, "I noticed a dynamic change happening in Colorado. More Americans started coming to our temple and trying to learn who we were."

Pardip Pathgur ties a turban around Manjeet Thaiara's head during the Vaisakhi celebration. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Fresh flowers taped to the side of a parade float. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Singh is one of a handful of first generation Sikhs who have found a sense of responsibility to maintain their religion and identity in the sea of cultures that have flooded Colorado in recent years. "The historical background of Sikhism," said Jasmeet Bajwa, "my parents had to go out of their way to teach us that." Growing up in the US, Bajwa and her peers were not immersed in the culture like their parents had been in India. "You kind of have to make it yourself," she says.

Komal Randhawa decorates a float with fresh roses for the first ever Sikh parade in Colroado history. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A young man walks with arms crossed in the mass of people parading down 16th street. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

And make it they have. If not for the work of the congregation's young members, the parade might never have gotten out the door. As racial and cultural tensions heighten in parallel to a controversial presidential race, it's become all the more important to these young people to pitch in.

"I think this is a really great way to show our American neighbors who we are as a community," said Singh. "We're Americans, too."

Three men dressed in matching garb stand in front of East High School. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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