Fiona Aboud: Sikhs in America

Fiona Aboud: Sikhs in America

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I had a lovely lunch today with the always effervescent  Fiona Aboud, who has just put together a book chronicling the lives of Sikhs in America, after two years of shooting. The book is up for the “peoples’ choice” vote in the Blurb “Photography Book Now” contest; go take a look, and make a choice!

In any case, the work is truly excellent and interesting. Just on the very off-chance you aren’t an expert on Sikhism, here is a primer, culled from our friend Wikipedia:

Sikh  is the title and name given to an adherent of Sikhism. The term
has its origin in the Sanskrit ‘disciple’, ‘learner’ or ‘instruction’.
Many male Sikhs can easily be recognized by their turbans, beards, or
steel bracelets on their right wrists. Steel bracelets are also worn by
Sikh women.

The evolution of Sikhs began with the emergence of Guru Nanak as a
religious leader and a social reformer during the fifteenth century in
Punjab. Their identity was formalized and wielded into uniform practice
by Guru Gobind Singhon March 30, 1699. The Sikhs established a nation
under Ranjit Singh in the nineteenth century in which they were
preeminent. They were known for their military prowess, administrative
capabilities, economic productivity and their adaptability to modern
western technology and administration.

The Sikhs comprise about two percent of India’s billion-person population.
The greater Punjab region is the historic homeland of Sikhism, although significant communities exist around the world.

Sikhs are required not to renounce the world, and to aspire to live a
modest life.
Seva (service) is an integral part of Sikh worship, very
easily observed in the Gurdwara. Visitors of any religious or
socio-economic background are welcomed, where 
Langar (food for all) is
always served.”

Ok, now you know.

Words and pictures below are Aboud’s.

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I began my photographic exploration of Sikhs in America as a personal
education and exploration. Through out my life I have always strived to
understand things that I feel are misunderstood by myself and society
at large. After 9/11 when Balbir Singh Sodhi was gunned down in Mesa,
Arizona on Sept. 15, 2001– the nation’s first post-9/11 victim of a
hate crime — the press did profiles on Sikhs and Sikhism explaining
that they were not Muslim and giving people a sound byte of knowledge.
Years later I still had the question: what is a Sikh American? What was
their American experience like?

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I have traveled across the country to Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, New
York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Texas, New Mexico, and I have
trips planned over the next 6 months to Arizona, California and Montana,
to further document this community.

In the face of continued discrimination and hate crimes that largely go
unreported by the media, many Sikhs remain strong and steadfast to
their beliefs and traditions. The next generation is split between
those that have assimilated and those that continue the Sikh
traditions, in many ways mirroring the struggle of all immigrant groups
that strive to balance tradition with the pressure to assimilate. The
youth are redefining what it means to be Sikh in America because
America is the place where they feel at home.

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Most any Sikh person will undoubtedly know a Sikh in
every corner of the US. The Sikh community has a unity that is unlike
any other religion in the US.  Despite the relatively small size of the
community, Sikhs are always going to events in other states and meeting
and keeping in touch with Sikhs in other States. In part that is what
made this project easier to produce. Once I had met a handful of
people in the NY and NJ area it opened me up to the North American
community of Sikhs. Another thing that helped me complete my project
was the hospitality that I was proffered. Coming from a Jewish
background,  I would joke that every Sikh person is like my Jewish
grandmother– always offering me food and making sure that I was fed.

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I do not pretend to be an expert about Sikhism and its many rich
traditions and texts. I am a beginner, an admirer and an observer.
Sikhs are living as Americans in America. They share a common religion,
but are as diverse in their ways of observance, practice, professional
choices, lifestyle and place of origin. They proudly hold onto their
Sikh religion and traditions, but believe they are strongly American
even if the outside world does not see it.

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See more of Fiona’s work here, see the blog for the book project here, and vote for the book, here.

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