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Sikhism in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

American Sikhs
San Jose Gurdwara Sahib (2448909577).jpg
Total population
~208,000 (2021 est.)
0.06% of the total American population
American EnglishPunjabi
American SpanishHindiUrdu

American Sikhs number around 200,000 people and account for 0.1% of the United States population as of 2021, forming the country's sixth-largest religious group.[1][2] The U.S. Census does not ask about religion and it is hard for surveys to estimate the populations of smaller religious groups like Sikhs.[3] The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the adult Sikh American population at 78,000 in 2008, while the Pew Research Center estimated the Sikh American adult population to be 140,000 and the total population at 200,000 in 2012.[4][5] Sikh organizations like the Sikh Coalition and American Sikh Congressional Caucus estimate the Sikh American population to be as high as 500,000-1,000,000, but do not provide any sources for these figures, which are often cited in news reports.[6][7][8] With 1% of Asian Americans being Sikh, and 90.7% of Sikh Americans being Asian American, the American Sikh population can be estimated at around 208,000 in 2021.[9][10][11] The largest Sikh populations in the U.S. are found in Northern California, especially in the Central Valley and the Bay Area, and in the New York metropolitan area. Around 49.2% of Punjabi Americans lived in California in 2021.[12]

Sikhism is a religion originating from medieval India (predominantly from the Punjab region of modern-day India and Pakistan) which was introduced into the United States during the 19th century. While most American Sikhs are Punjabi, the United States also has a number of non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism.[13] Sikh men are typically identifiable by their unshorn beards and turbans (head coverings), articles of their faith. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and subsequent other terrorism related activities by Islamic groups, Sikhs have often been mistaken as Muslims or Arabs, and have been subject to several hate crimes, including murders.[14][15] Sikh temples have also been targets of violence due to being mistaken for mosques. A 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin garnered national and international attention, with then President Obama ordering flags to be half-staffed at all federal buildings.

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First immigrants

The Stockton gurdwara, the oldest in the U.S., opened on October 24, 1912.[16]
The Stockton gurdwara, the oldest in the U.S., opened on October 24, 1912.[16]

Sikhs have lived in the United States for more than 130 years. The first Sikh immigrants to the United States started to arrive in the second half of the 19th century, when poor economic conditions in British India drove many Indians to emigrate elsewhere. Most Sikh immigrants to the United States came from the province of Punjab and came to the U.S. to work on agricultural farms in California, travelling via Hong Kong to Angel Island.[17]

In the years just after 1900, hundreds of Sikhs had arrived to work in the lumber mills of Bellingham, Washington. In 1907, 400–500 white men, predominantly members of the Asiatic Exclusion League, attacked the Sikhs’ homes in what is now known as the Bellingham riots. This quickly drove the East Indian immigrants out of the town.[18][19][20]

Some Sikhs worked in lumber mills of Oregon or in railroad construction and for some Sikhs it was on a railway line, which allowed other Sikhs who were working as migrant laborers to come into the town on festival days.[21][unreliable source?]

A big effect on Sikh migration to the western states occurred during World War I and World War II, where Sikhs were recruited by the British Indian Army to serve for them. Sikhs fought bravely during these wars and began to live in England after their serving period. Among the Sikhs who already lived in America prior to the wars, many Sikhs joined them, mainly during World Wars I and II. Among those who served in the US military include Bhagat Singh Thind in World War I.

The first Sikh gurdwara established in the U.S. was the Gurdwara Sahib Stockton, in Stockton, California, which was established in 1912 by Baba Wasakha Singh Ji Dadehar and Baba Jawala Singh Ji.[22]

Discrimination after the September 11 attacks

Sikhs of America parade float at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston
Sikhs of America parade float at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston
Houston Sikh Community at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston
Houston Sikh Community at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston

As a result of the September 11 attacks, some Sikh Americans have become subject to discrimination, often from individuals who mistakenly believe that they are Arab or Muslim.

Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner, was killed on September 15, 2001, due to being mistaken for a Muslim. In a 2011 report to the United States Senate, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported several assaults and incidents of arson at Sikh temples after September 11. All were labeled as hate crimes that resulted from the perpetrators' misconceptions that their targets were Muslim.[23] In August 2012, a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was the site of a shooting, leading to six Sikh individuals being killed.[24] On May 7, 2013, an elderly Sikh man was attacked with an iron bar in Fresno, California, in a possible hate crime.[25] On September 21, 2013, Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh professor was attacked in Harlem, New York, by a group of 20-30 men who branded him as "Osama" and Terrorist".[26]

A 2007 survey of Sikh students by the Sikh Coalition found that three out of four male students interviewed "had been teased or harassed on account of their religious identity."[27] In 2014, the Sikh Coalition released a national report on the bullying of Sikh children in American schools. The report found that 55.8% of Sikh students surveyed in Indianapolis reported being bullied, while 54.5% of Sikh students surveyed in Fresno, California, reported being bullied.[28] According to the surveys, Sikh students wearing turbans are twice as likely to be bullied as the average American child.


In the 1960s, due to increased Indian immigration and rising interest in Indian spirituality in the American counterculture, a number of non-Punjabi Americans began to enter 3HO. Prominent in this trend was Yogi Bhajan, leader of the Sikh-related movement 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization), whose Los Angeles temple was the first to introduce non-Punjabi Americans to Sikhism.[13]



Bhagat Singh Thind v. United States

A gathering of British veterans who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War; a Sikh is present among them (c. 1917)
A gathering of British veterans who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War; a Sikh is present among them (c. 1917)
A Sikh-American U.S. Army officer (2010)
A Sikh-American U.S. Army officer (2010)

Sikhs have served in the United States military at least as far back as the early 20th century, when one Bhagat Singh Thind, who though not a citizen joined the United States Army and served in World War I. Thind requested citizenship at the end of the war, being granted and revoked twice, before finally being naturalized in 1936.[29] Far larger numbers of Sikhs served in World War II, and all American wars following.

The ability of observant Sikhs to serve in the American military has, since 1985, been compromised by a discontinuation of exemptions to uniform standards which previously allowed Sikhs to maintain their religiously mandated beards and turbans while in uniform.[30] As of 2010, a Sikh doctor, Kamaljeet S. Kalsi, and dentist, Tejdeep Singh Rattan, are the only Sikh officers to be permitted to serve in uniform with beard and turban.[31] In addition, Simranpreet Lamba was permitted to enlist, with exemption to wear his turban and beard, in 2010 due to his knowledge of Punjabi and Hindi.[32]


In the federal appeals court in Washington, a preliminary injunction allowed two Sikh men to enter the military recruit training wearing a turban as it was considered an article of religion. The military recruits Milaap Singh Chahal and Jaskirat Singh sued the Marine Corps in April due to violation of the first amendment which allows the freedom of religion. The branch that they were a part of declined full religious exemption.[33]


In 2016, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) began to allow turbans, subject to standards compatible with unimpeded performance of duty.[34] In 2015, Sandeep Dhaliwal became the first Deputy Sheriff in Texas to wear a turban on duty (Harris County Sherriff's Office). He was shot and killed from behind in 2019 while conducting a routine traffic stop on the Copperbrook subdivision in Houston Texas.[35]

In 2019, the Houston Police Department changed their rules to allow beards and turbans, joining 25 other law enforcement agencies.[36]


Many Sikhs started life in America working in lumber mills, mines, and as farm laborers, with many eventually becoming landowners. Many early Sikh immigrants were restaurant owners. In 1956, Dalip Singh Saund became the first Asian Indian-born person to be elected to the United States House of Representatives.

Elected officials

Geographical distribution

Members of the Sikh community of Somerville, Massachusetts
Members of the Sikh community of Somerville, Massachusetts

Nearly half of American Sikhs live in California. Most of California's Sikh population live in NorCal, especially in the Central Valley and the Bay Area. The nation's largest Sikh population is in California's Central Valley, where Punjabi is the third most spoken language after only English and Spanish.[45] Sikhs can found across the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, but the largest concentrations can be found in the valley's largest cities (Sacramento in the Sacramento Valley and Stockton, Fresno, and Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley), and in smaller communities associated with the farming of almonds, peaches, walnuts, and plums. There are also significant concentrations of Sikh Americans in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta and in the Bay Area near Fremont, California.

In the Sacramento Valley, Yuba City and Live Oak have prominent Sikh populations, with the first Sikh arriving in Yuba City in 1906.[46] In 2021, Yuba City was home to an Indian American population of 10,638 (15.3% of the city's population), while Live Oak was home to an Indian American population of 1,038 (11.4% of the city's population), with most of these being Sikhs.[47][48] Sutter County, California as a whole is home to 12,753 Indian Americans (12.9% of the county population); with most of these being Sikhs, this makes Sutter County the most proportionally Sikh county in America. Down south in the San Joaquin Valley, Livingston is home to 2,798 Indian Americans (19.9% of the city's population); with most of these being Sikh, Livingston is the most proportionally Sikh municipality in America.[49][50]

The New York metropolitan area also has a significant Punjabi American presence, with 49,005 Punjabis living in the area. 18,187 Punjabis live in New York City (0.23% of the city's population), including 16,139 in the borough of Queens (0.73% of the borough's population).[51] The Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens is often referred to as "Little Punjab" due to its large Punjabi population. In 2020, the stretch of 101st Avenue between 111th and 123rd streets in Richmond Hill was renamed Punjab Avenue (ਪੰਜਾਬ ਐਵੇਨਿਊ) and the stretch of 97th Avenue between Lefferts Boulevard and 117th Street was renamed Gurdwara Street.[52][53] Outside of the city, the suburbs of Hicksville in Long Island and Carteret in Central Jersey have significant Punjabi populations. In 2021, Hicksville was home to 8,040 Indian Americans (18.7% of the community's population) while Carteret was home to 4,708 Indian Americans (18.8% of the borough's population), with many of these being Sikhs.[54][55]

Outside of California and the New York metropolitan area, there are significant populations of Punjabi Sikhs in Kent, Washington and Greenwood, Indiana. There is also a concentration of non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism in Española, New Mexico.[56]

Notable Sikh Americans

See also



  1. ^ "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 - Section 1: Population - Table 75: Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990, 2001, and 2008 (page 61)" (PDF). United States Census  Bureau. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  2. ^ "Why Pew Research Center typically can't report the views of smaller U.S. religious groups". Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  3. ^ "Does the Census Bureau have data for religion?". United States Census  Bureau. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  4. ^ "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 - Section 1: Population - Table 75: Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990, 2001, and 2008 (page 61)" (PDF). United States Census  Bureau. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  5. ^ "How Many U.S. Sikhs?". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  6. ^ "About Sikhs". Sikh Coalition. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  7. ^ "H. RES. 275 - 118th Congress (2023-2024)". United States Congress. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  8. ^ "How Many U.S. Sikhs?". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  9. ^ "Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  10. ^ "2020 National Sikh American Survey: Key Findings". Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  11. ^ "DP05ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  12. ^ "B16001LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME BY ABILITY TO SPEAK ENGLISH FOR THE POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2 June 2023.
  13. ^ a b Ronald H. Bayor (31 July 2011). Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans. ABC-CLIO. pp. 985–. ISBN 978-0-313-35787-9. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  14. ^ "Crimes against Sikhs continue in US amidst spotlight on race relations". 25 June 2020. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  15. ^ Gumbel, Andrew (2018-09-19). "'The violence is always there': life as a Sikh in Trump's America". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  16. ^ "History of Stockton Gurwara". Archived from the original on September 27, 2013. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  17. ^ Passage From India - Asian Indian Immigrants in North America", Joan M. Jensen, Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-03846-1
  18. ^ Englesberg, Paul (2015). "The 1907 Bellingham Riot and Anti-Asian Hostilities in the Pacific Northwest". The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership Publications. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
  19. ^ "News Coverage: 1907-2007 - Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project". Retrieved 2021-01-11.
  20. ^ Johnson, Tim (2007-08-29). "Dark Century: Observing the Anniversary of Anti-Sikh Riots" (PDF). Cascadia Weekly. Vol. 2, no. 35. Bellingham, WA: Cascadia Newspaper Company. pp. 8, 10–11. ISSN 1931-3292. OCLC 711684947. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-03-01. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
  21. ^ "Sikhism in North America". Archived from the original on 2013-04-16.
  22. ^ Stockton Gurdwara, America, "Stockton California" 31 October 2006
  23. ^ "Anti-Muslim Incidents Since Sept. 11, 2001". Southern Poverty Law Center. March 29, 2011. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  24. ^ Matt Pearce; Brian Bennett (5 August 2012). "Gunman's tattoos lead officials to deem Sikh shooting terrorism". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  25. ^ SF Gate (7 May 2013). "Fresno police: Sikh beating a possible hate crime". SF Gate. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  26. ^ "Indian Professor attacked in Columbia after being called Osama". Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  27. ^ Sidhu, Darwinder S.; Neha Singh Gohil (2009). Civil Rights in Wartime: The Post-9/11 Sikh Experience. Ashgate Publishing. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7546-7553-2.
  28. ^ Juan Orozco; Carmen George (March 13, 2014). "Report: Fresno County Sikh students say they're bullied at school". Fresno Bee.
  29. ^ Dawinder S. Sidhu, Neha Singh Gohil. Civil rights in wartime: the post-9/11 Sikh experience. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2009. ISBN 0-7546-7553-X, 9780754675532. Pg 137
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  34. ^ David Shortell (December 29, 2016). "NYPD changes policy, will allow officers to wear turbans". CNN. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  35. ^ "Deputy Who Gained National Attention as First Texas Cop to Wear Turban Shot & Killed on Duty". Yahoo. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  36. ^ "HPD changes uniform policy to honor Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal". November 18, 2019. Retrieved 2022-06-22.
  37. ^ Willon, Phil. "Meet the nation's first known Sikh woman to serve as a city mayor", Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2017. Accessed January 16, 2018.
  38. ^ Hefler, Jan. "Race-baiting ads backfired, says Sikh who broke barriers in South Jersey freeholder race", The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 8, 2017. Accessed December 2, 2017.
  39. ^ "Sikh city planner becomes Charlottesville mayor | Richmond Times-Dispatch". Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  40. ^ Tanjua, Damon (November 23, 2011). "School Board Members Make It Official". Vernon Patch. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
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  42. ^ Haniffa, Aziz. "High-stakes showdown in Washington State". Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  43. ^ "Bains, Karm - Sutter County Board of Supervisors". Retrieved 2023-02-28.
  44. ^ "Mani Grewal - District 4 Supervisor - Stanislaus County". Retrieved 2023-02-28.
  45. ^ Sewell, Summer (2021-02-08). "'This has to end peacefully': California's Punjabi farmers rally behind India protests". The Guardian. Retrieved 2022-11-27. Community members have also raised funds to support billboards drawing attention to India's protests throughout the Central Valley, where Punjabi is the third-most spoken language, after English and Spanish.
  46. ^ "Tuly Singh Johl- Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive". Retrieved 2023-03-22.
  47. ^ "DP05ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES". Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  48. ^ "DP05ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES". Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  49. ^ "DP05ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES". Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  50. ^ "Data Center Results - Livingston, California". Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  52. ^ "Richmond Hill Street Co-Named 'Punjab Avenue' To Honor Neighborhood's South Asian Culture". CBS News. Retrieved 2022-11-23.
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  54. ^ "DP05ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES". Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  55. ^ "DP05ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES". Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  56. ^ "American Sikhs Run Billion-Dollar Security Firm". Retrieved 2022-11-23.
  57. ^ "Ryan Hurst Instagram with Sikh name". Instagram. Retrieved January 13, 2016.

Further reading

  • Atkinson, David C. The burden of white supremacy: Containing Asian migration in the British empire and the United States (U North Carolina Press, 2016).
  • Hawley, John Stratton, and Gurinder Singh Mann. Studying the Sikhs: Issues for North America (State University of New York Press, 1993).
  • Kurien, Prema. "Shifting US racial and ethnic identities and Sikh American activism." RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 4.5 (2018): 81–98. online
  • Mahmood, Cynthia Keppley, and Stacy Brady. The Guru's Gift: An Ethnography Exploring Gender Equality with North American Sikh Women (Mayfield Publishers, 2000).
  • Mann, Gurinder Singh et al. Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America (Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Sidhu, Dawinder S., and Neha Singh Gohil. Civil Rights in Wartime: The Post-9/11 Sikh Experience (Ashgate, 2009).
  • Stabin, Tova. "Sikh Americans." in Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, (3rd ed., vol. 4, Gale, 2014), pp. 179–192. Online

External links

This page was last edited on 4 June 2023, at 01:22
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