February 16, 2017


Sikhs opened their temple doors to Oroville Dam evacuees -- and strangers came pouring in (Jaweed Kaleem, Feb. 14th, 2017, LA Times)

"This is their home," said Singh of this week's visitors. "Our faith teaches us to help everyone. The poor, the hungry, it doesn't matter who you are."

The danger of flooding has brought together hundreds of evacuees with a population that, although common in this part of the state, remains a mystery to many here and has sometimes borne the brunt of bigotry.

Sikhs in Sacramento, home to 10 temples and about 11,000 Sikh families, began putting out calls for supplies and volunteers on Sunday evening after 180,000 people living in communities downstream of Lake Oroville were given short notice for mandatory evacuations. 

The crowds didn't start arriving at Shri Guru Ravidass until the mayor of Sacramento posted a list late that night of temples that were set up as shelters. It was retweeted 2,500 times. 

It was around then that Juan Cervantes was driving from Olivehurst, an evacuated area across the river from Yuba City. He spotted the tweet and came with his wife, two brothers, their wives and seven kids among them.

They arrived Sunday at the 24-year-old Shri Guru Ravidass Temple, a yellow stucco building with green trim on the eaves located north of Sacramento in Rio Linda. In this rural area, it's not uncommon to see horses grazing in front of barnyards. 

Cervantes had encountered Sikhs before; Yuba City is home to one of the most concentrated communities in the country and hosts more than 100,000 at its annual Sikh parade. But he had never stepped foot in a temple.

It's been a learning process.

Cervantes almost forgot to take his shoes off when entering the prayer hall where the families slept. He dozed off each night with a blue baseball cap on his head, not just for warmth but to keep his hair covered while in sight of the Sikh holy book at the front of the room. He's had to remember to always point his soles away from the stage where the book is kept. And he's avoided eating meat on the grounds, trying to attune himself to the vegetarianism many Sikhs follow.

For the 38-year-old who picks fruit in the Central Valley's farms, it's also been a moment of humility -- and connection he didn't expect.

"These people are just like me," said Cervantes, who shares a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and three kids back home. "I'm Catholic, but we have the same God. We have the same heart. The same hands."

Posted by at February 16, 2017 5:34 AM