Students write messages promoting world peace on ribbons that were displayed on a board during the first Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month last November. Courtesy Dilraj Kaur.
For the second year, Fresno State students will celebrate the first Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month in November, where a club will focus on educating the community about its religion and promoting equality for Sikhs.
Last September, the California Legislature passed a resolution declaring November Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month. Aranvir Johal, president of the Punjab Sikh Awareness Society (PSAS), said Sikhs deserve the month and that it’s no different than Hispanic Heritage Month or African American History Month.
“We’re trying to show students that we’re here, and we’re promoting equality,” Johal said.
Johal said that is the mission of the club, along with educating the community about discrimination Sikhs have faced.
PSAS will host multiple events in the Free Speech Area to celebrate the month, such as information sessions about Sikhism, turban tying, traditional dance and martial arts routines, a ribbon writing event and a henna tattoo event.
The club began in 2011, when Dr. Andrew Fiala, a philosophy professor, approached Anhad Gujjar, a senior at Fresno State, about starting the club.
In the past, there was a Punjab-Sikh club called the Sikh Student Association, but it died out. Gujjar and her sister started PSAS from scratch, with Fiala as the advisor.
Gujjar said the main idea of creating the club was to spread awareness of different Sikh practices and to get Sikh students involved on campus.
In its first two years of existence, PSAS held many events and participated in projects. The club raised money to help the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort, participated in a multi-cultural fashion show on campus and helped at Bulldog Pantry and Kids Day. PSAS members help at local gurdwaras, which are Sikh temples.
Gujjar was president of the club for two years before she stepped aside. She said each year, the club’s mission is the same, but the strategy to accomplish club goals change.
Gujjar said, at first, it was hard to get members since the club was so new. Now, the club has about 20 members from across the Valley.
Club member Simranjit Singh said PSAS is a very diverse group of people.
“Sikhs of all sorts— male, female, turbaned, non-turbaned, short, tall, black and white— truly can come together and work for the betterment of the greater good,” he said.
Singh said that the Sikhi term “sangat” describes one’s environment in life and is important to him. He said the club is an outlet for sangat.
Singh said he joined the club because it was a way to demonstrate “seva,” selfless service in Sikhism.
“We as young adults have this great energy within us that pushes us through our daily lives. What PSAS does is directly give us an outlet to plug in this energy through amazing and positive means,” Singh said.
Johal said, more than anything, he hopes the club educates other students about the Sikh religion.
“This is our identity. Don’t take this away from us.”