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MESA, Ariz. -- Mesa will host an "Embrace Diversity" memorial on Saturday to honor the memory of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a local Chevron dealer and Sikh father of three who last year was the first victim of a hate crime murder in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. More than a dozen other hate-based killings have occurred in the past 12 months, including three involving convenience store clerks or owners.
In a cruel twist of fate, the Sodhi family last month lost another brother to an apparent hate crime. While driving his taxi in San Francisco, Sukhpal Singh Sodhi was shot and killed. No money or items were taken in the attack.
"God chose our family to go through this," Harjit Singh, Balbir and Sukhpal's brother, told Sikhnet. "I don't know why. First, one loss, then two. It was a shock to us. My parents called and said, 'If you're not safe in that country, come back to India.' Honestly -- our family's faith is in God and in the United States. This is our country. I came to this country 18 years ago. I chose Phoenix because it is the safest city in the world. I want to raise my children here."
The traditional religious garb of Sikhism, an egalitarian Indian religion unrelated to Islam, requires men to wear a turban, grow a beard and carry a small knife (to represent the fine line of truth). Unfortunately, many Americans unfamiliar with the Sikh faith have come to associate turbans and beards with television images of Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, subjecting the many small Sikh communities in the U.S. to unwarranted harassment and violence.
Convenience store owners and workers of Middle-Eastern or South Asian descent are advised to be vigilant during the days surrounding the 9-11 anniversary.
The Balbir Singh Sodhi family will join the city of Mesa in hosting the memorial with the Sikh community and an interfaith gathering in Mesa Sept. 14.
ABOVE: Family members and Mesa, Ariz. police raised a flag in memoriam of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was killed in a hate crime at the family's Mesa convenience store last year.