‘We were Americans; we wanted to claim our place as Americans’
Under the shadow of the Wisconsin tragedy, filmmaker Valarie Kaur, a third generation Sikh
in America, speaks to Arthur J Pais about hope and possibility
Valarie Kaur was at a White House conference speaking on the future of the Sikh-Amer- ican community. She would soon write in a Washington
Post article that she spoke on a rising generation of Sikhs ‘who are reinterpreting
their faith and finding innovative ways to
serve their country.’ She could see many
students in the audience, listening and
nodding. Later, they met her and shared
their brightest new ideas. She was moved,
energized, and filled with hope for the
future of our community.
Forty-eight hours later, a gunman
opened fire on a Sikh congregation at the
Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Kaur — a third generation Sikh in America, whose film Divided We Fall was the
first feature documentary on 9/11 racism
and hate crimes against minorities,
including Sikh Americans, after 9/11, has
been shown at over a hundred community
gatherings, dozens of schools and colleges
and universities and a few film festivals —
rushed to Milwaukee not only to chronicle
the grief, but also the resilience of the
community. She was also grieving for the
lost lives and applauding the heroism of
the police officer who took many bullets to
stop the assault.
Kaur has studied religion and law at
Stanford University, Harvard Divinity
School, and Yale Law School. She brings
both aspects of her education to her work.
As a legal advocate, she has clerked on the Senate
Judiciary Committee, traveled to Guantanamo to report on
the military commissions, and led a high-profile campaign
against racial profiling with a coalition in Connecticut.
She is also an interfaith organizer; and founding director
of Groundswell, an initiative at Auburn Seminary that combines storytelling and advocacy to mobilize faith communities in social action.
Her films include Alienation (2011), which follows families swept up in immigration raids, and The Worst of the
Worst: Portrait of a Supermax (2012), which explores the
rise of supermax prisons and use of solitary confinement.
Today, Kaur is grieving hard over the shootings, she says,
but she has also resolved “not to forget the hope and possibility glimpsed in an emerging generation of Sikh
Americans… who will soon heal and rebuild their community.”
Sikhs and people of all faiths gather for a candlelight vigil in New York City in memory of the six Sikhs who lost their lives at the Wisconsin gurdwara
What have you been doing for the past few days with the
When we heard the news, my producing partner Sharat
Raju and I decided to come to Oak Creek to help in any way
we could. Since we arrived, we have been visiting families
and capturing on film any stories and messages they want
the world to know. We’re here to document an unprece-
dented moment in the Sikh community. In more than a
decade of chronicling hate violence against the Sikh
American community, we had never seen an attack that was
so brutal, or seized national attention on this scale. In this
moment, we are called in the darkest grief to find the words
to tell our stories to the public, help them learn about our
faith, raise awareness about our struggle against discrimi-
nation, and call for an end to hate against all people.