American Sikh Culture Highlighted in Rose Bowl Parade Float

Every New Year’s Day, millions of Americans tune in to watch the Rose Bowl Parade broadcast live from Pasadena, California. Started over 120 years ago, the parade includes dozens of floats, a variety of marching bands, and equestrian units, and is designed to celebrate the history and culture of the United States. Part of the tradition of the Rose Bowl parade is an annual theme, and this year’s theme, “Inspiring Stories,” was especially meaningful for the American Sikh community. That’s because, for the first time ever, the parade featured a Sikh-themed float, the result of years of lobbying by the Sikh community in America. And American Sikhs are hoping that this will help their rich history finally gain some national recognition.

Followers of the Sikh religion, which was founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India, Sikhs currently number around 29.5 million worldwide, most of whom live in India. The first Sikhs arrived in the United States in the late 1800’s with the same goal as any other immigrant community – to make better lives for themselves and their families. Sikhs have faced serious discrimination in the U.S., but have persevered, and many have gone on to make notable contributions to American culture in such fields as science and politics. [See Sikhs use Rose Parade Float in Effort to Build Understanding, by Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times, 31.Dec.2014.]

The Sikh float was modeled after the Stockton Gurdwara, the first Sikh house of worship established in the United States back in 1912, and featured a diverse group of American Sikhs, including a film student, civil rights activists, and members of the police force. Rashpal Dhindsa, founder of the United Sikh Mission and a contributor to the float, explained in a recent Huffington Post interview that, based on the theme of ‘inspiring stories,’ “the Sikh American story was a great fit for the parade organizers this year.” [See Rose Parade Features First-Ever Sikh Float, by Antonia Blumberg, Huffington Post, 01.Jan.2015.]

The spotlight on Sikh Americans seems to have shone at just the right time. A recent Stanford study confirmed that over 70 percent of Americans cannot correctly identify an American Sikh, and one out of every five Americans experience fear or discomfort when they see an American Sikh with a turban and beard, both of which are tenets of the religion. Members of the American Sikh community can only hope that their inclusion in the Rose Bowl parade highlights their valuable contributions to the American cultural landscape. After all, “it’s not what we believe in,” says Dhindsa. “It’s about who we are.”


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