Not being from the east coast nor Sikh, growing up I’d never heard of the NYC Sikh Day Parade. However, after working at the Sikh Coalition for almost 9 months, I heard all about it from the staff – everything from the number of people who come wearing orange and blue to remembering how they too used to march in the parade as kids and sing, “We are the khalsa, the mighty mighty khalsa!” But I still really didn’t know what to expect.
Well, I definitely got the full Sikh Day Parade experience when I happily attended my first NYC Sikh Day parade two weeks ago. Several SYNY members, another VISTA Associate and I attended the parade together to pass out the Sikh Coalition Vaisakhi magnets to the youth which they loved.
To say I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, both participating in the parade and watching from the sidelines, would be an understatement. I was expecting a lot of people, but the numbers just blew me away. I’m not even going to try to estimate how many people were there. There were Sikhs from all over the tri-state area; many of whom had to endure a long car, bus or even plane ride to get to Madison Avenue. The general atmosphere however was one of happiness and delight. You could see the excitement on everyone’s face and the pride of marching down a usual very busy New York avenue together.
However, what blew me away even more was the reaction of the non-Sikh onlookers. Of course there were your typical annoyed New Yorkers, frustrated that they couldn’t get where they were going fast enough with so many people crowding the streets, but, more often than not people stopped, pulled out their iPhones or cameras and took pictures of the sea of orange, yellow and blue that was Madison Avenue. They were genuinely interested in learning more about Sikhism and what was going on. Thankfully, I had hundreds of the Sikh Coalition’s “The Sikhs” Brochures with me to share.
While passing out the brochures, I had several interesting conversations. One woman I spoke with said that while she had no idea there was a Gurdwara right next to her childhood home, she was now aware of who Sikhs are and the backlash they continually face after 9/11. Another woman mentioned how she loved the idea of providing food to the entire community (the Sikh practice of langar). I even had a very nice conversation with two NYPD officers who were keen to learn more about what was going on and were grateful for the information (and magnet) I gave them.
The positive reactions I witnessed are a true testament to organizations like the Sikh Coalition who work tirelessly to educate the public about Sikhi and create positive association with Sikhs. The parade is not only a great place for Sikhs from across the country to come together and show their unity and Sikh pride, but also provides New York City and beyond with a true picture of who the Sikhs are. It was a day I will never forget and I look forward to being there next year.
- Ava Master
**Ava is currently serving as the Americorp* VISTA Development Associate at the Sikh Coalition. Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, Ava moved to the US to attend school in California and then moved to New York City last year to join the Sikh Coalition.