Learn about the fifth largest religion in the world
SAN ANTONIO, TX, USA (August 2, 2015)—More than 40 years after moving to the United States from India, G.P. Singh says he’s used to people mistaking his turban as a sign that he’s Muslim. In fact, Singh—and many other turban-wearing men in San Antonio—is a long practicing Sikh. “We’ve been in America for over 100 years,” Singh says. “Yet no one knows or has heard about us.” In hopes of changing that, Singh partnered with UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures to help bring an updated version of the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit, Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab, to San Antonio.
The exhibit, which opened in February and remains on display until Jan. 3, gives visitors the chance to learn about Sikhism through more than 100 items and interactive displays. Singh, who chose to settle in San Antonio for its welcoming atmosphere and later founded a successful tech company, says it wasn’t until 9/11 that people started to lash out against the Sikh community, calling them “terrorists” or “bad guys,” without ever asking why they wear a turban. He says Sikhs believe in equality and tolerance toward others. The faith values include honesty, sharing and honorable actions. The exhibit educates viewers about the pillars of the Sikhi faith and the lifestyles of modern Sikhs, including why men wear turbans: to represent their religion (rather than their culture as is true for many Muslims who wear turbans), as well as a means of protecting their hair, which men typically don’t cut out of respect to God.
One display shows a variety of turban styles, and another celebrates the fashions of traditional Sikh wedding gowns, which are colorful and include intricate beading, plus items that represent the art and culture of the religion. Interactive displays provide opportunities to hear Punjabi music common among Sikh communities.
Singh says he’s hopeful the exhibit provides some insight into the religion that was founded in India in the 15th century. There are approximately 25 million Sikhs in the world, according to research from the Pew Research Center, and while most are still based in India, the global economy is helping to expand the geographic footprint. “There are Sikhs who are entrepreneurs, doctors, professionals and engineers,” says Singh, who originally immigrated to the United States for graduate school. He was one of the first turban-wearing Sikhs to move to San Antonio, but the community now counts around 300 families and in June has plans to open a second Sikh Center temple, where Singh says all are welcome.