June 12, 2013 – In July 1913, Bhagat Singh Thind came to
America, from his home in Amritsar, Punjab, in pursuit of higher
education while dreaming of a better life for himself and his
family. A century later, nearly 150 Sikh business leaders and
CEOs of various companies gathered at the White House to celebrate
this pioneer and more than a century of achievement by the American
Organized by the White House Office of Public Engagement, with
the cooperation of the Sikh Council on Religious Education (SCORE),
the event marked the 100-year anniversary of Bhagat Singh Thind’s
arrival in the US. Thind was the first turbaned Sikh to fight
in the American armed forces and led a life-long campaign to gain
citizenship for him and many others.
“The goal of this event is to acknowledge the contributions
this community has made to the country, celebrate 100 years of
achievement, the immigrant success story in America and also to
acknowledge the horrible tragedy of Oak Creek last year,”
says Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office
of Public Engagement. While recognizing the success of Sikh immigrants,
the White House hopes it can further open dialogue between the
Obama administration and Sikhs for years to come.
In his opening remarks, Monteiro discussed how the current negative
mainstream perception of immigrants is untrue when looking at
the accomplishments of Sikhs in America.
“By working with all of you, who show that you’ve
done nothing but contribute to this country, create opportunity
and economic mobility, it shows that folks, no matter what their
station, can achieve more and increase their station in life through
hard work and responsible citizenship,” he said.
To further punctuate this point, Dr. Rajwant Singh, chairman of
SCORE, invited these “movers and shakers” of the Sikh
community around the country together in one place, the nation’s
"This is perhaps the first time that such a collection
of prominent Sikh business leaders has gathered at one place.
It shows that as a community, we have generated wealth and jobs
and proved our vitality," said Dr. Singh.
Yet realizing Sikh financial clout was not the only reason for
the event, as presentations from the White House Business Council
and the Domestic Policy Council gave first-hand updates on policy
initiatives, such as immigration reform bill that recently passed
in the Senate.
For business, “there are three numbers that matter…immigration
reform is projected to 5.4% to GDP from now to 2033, it is projected
to cut $850 billion dollars from the federal deficit and it’s
projected to add $350 billion dollars to our social security trust
fund,” said Ari Matusiak, director of private sector engagement.
Tyler Moran, deputy policy director on immigration, further expanded
on the social realities of the Senate immigration bill as well.
In the family area, green card holders can now sponsor their members
immediately, the overall number of visas increased and the bill
clears the backlog, which means all people who are waiting for
a legal visa will now have a quicker process, she says.
With three weeks away from first anniversary of the tragedy that
occurred at Oak Creek, Wisconsin, speakers wanted to give thanks
to the Obama administration for all the support they have given
to the Sikh community.
“At the end of the day, we are celebrating today our Sikh
heritage and that identity is an identity this president truly
does appreciate and respect in a lot of important ways,”
says Amar Singh, a member of the White House Commission on Asian
American and Pacific Islanders.
For the first time in over 30 years, three turbaned Sikhs were
allowed to serve in the U.S. military under this administration
and just a month.
“But the work is not over yet,” says Singh.
The event ended on a good note, as Sikh entrepreneurs reflected
on their positive experiences within American business. Sunny
Singh, president and CEO of Edifics, described his immigration
to the United States and the challenges he faced as a businessman,
going from near bankrupt to financial success.
His motto when things were down: “We must persevere, we
must show the tenacity, we will work hard and we will have to
focus to weather the storm,” he said.
“Those are the values this country cherishes, encapsulates,
appreciates and rewards. Those are the same values our Sikh religion
espouses, appreciates and rewards.”
Rajinder “Violinder” Singh Momi and the University
of Maryland Bhangra Team performed throughout the event, much
to the delight of the audience. Sehejneet Kaur, college freshmen,
sang in her melodious voice a Punjabi song, narrating the resilient
spirit of Punjabis and Sikhs.
“For me the conference was a very positive one. The
group had great positive energy and the take away was - how beautifully
the community leaders are collaborating with the various agencies
and government bodies to address the challenges, we as a community
face. Collaboration to resolve issues, enable and empower
the community. At the same time appreciate the immense goodness
there, opportunity that we have here in the USA. Full embodiment
of Chardhi Kala.” – Kaval Kaur, CFO at Alert Enterprise,
a security company in San Francisco.
Gurpreet ‘Sunny’ Singh, CEO, Edifecs Inc., a multi-million
dollar company in Seattle, Washington, while speaking at the event,
said, "American fully embraced me and gave me an opportunity
to survive and thrive. Values of my faith, Sikhism and US founding
principles, coincided to give me the strength to create an opportunity
“The White House, in cooperation with the Sikh Council
on Religion and Education, brought together so many Sikh American
business leaders to celebrate the contributions of Sikh Americans
over the last 100 years in the United States. Administration officials,
including the Sikhs amongst them, and Sikh American citizens together
frankly culled through the harsh lessons learned post 9/11
and the murders at Oak Creek; discussed the learning and initiatives
needed by the Government and civil society to protect the civil
liberties of all Americans including those who look in school
and airport security lines; considered strategies needed
to grow the contributions and standing of Sikh Americans in the
United States; recognized the entrepreneurship, business acumen,
and the collective financial clout of the Sikh American community;
and felt profound pride to be an American when Sikh kirtan
resonated loud and clear in the White House.”said, Indira
Kaur Ahluwalia, is the founder and President of Development &
Training Services, Inc. (dTS), a management consulting firm which
focuses on the role of women and other underrepresented populations
in economic development and democracy building activities.
Savneet Singh, CEO of Gold Bullion, a leading precious metals
distribution platform based in Manhattan, said, "Being in
America is one of the biggest advantages he had always felt and
circumstances created opportunities for me to succeed and many
of us. We must make sure that such opportunities and circumstances
for others as well." Savneet is the founder and president
of GBI, the first electronic platform that allows investors to
buy, trade and store physical precious metals. Savneet was recently
named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list, Outstanding 50 Asian Americans
in Business, in addition to the Empact 100 list of top 100 Entrepreneurs
Charanjeet Singh Minhas, CEO of Tekstrom , an IT company
in Delaware, said, "The group of Sikh business leaders
who met in the White House yesterday to discuss, evolve and
improve the path of progress, equality and prosperity were
left in no doubt that America is for You, Sikhs, and All."
All the business leaders were invited for a dinner at Willard
Intercontinental, a historic and prestigious hotel, across from
the White House in honor of this celebration. This dinner was
hosted by the Sikh Human Development Foundation, an organization
providing scholarships to needy but bright students in Punjab.
Some of the prominent business leaders who were present: Tejinder
Singh Bindra,NY, Lakhbir Singh,MD, Jasbir Singh, NC, Raminder
Bindra, NJ, Harbinder Singh Sahni, NJ, Supreet Singh, IL, Billy
Bath, CA, Harbir Bhatia, CA, Mayank Bawa, CA, Amitpal Singh, UT,
Amarjit Singh, FL, Charanpreet Bagga, Darshan Singh Bagga, NY,
Anita Gambhir, VA Baldeep Dua, NJ, Baljeet
Bath, CA Balwinder ‘Dillon’ Dhillon, TX Bj Singh,
CA, Bobby Saini,VA Bobby Singh, Charanbir S.
Mahal, Charanpreet Bagga, Chattar Singh Saini, MD
Darshan Singh Bagga, NY, Davinder Khanna, VA, Davinder Sawhney,
Devinder Singh, MD Dickey Singh, CA Dr. Darshan Singh
Sehbi, OH, Gagandeep Bhalla, Gunvir S. Baveja, VA
Gurdarshan Singh Brar, TX, Gurmit Singh Bhatia, TX, Gurpreet Singh,
Hardeep Singh Chadha & Ladi Chadha, MD, Jack Singh
Jagwinder Singh Sikka, Jaswinder Singh Bindra
Kanwal Taneja, Maninder Sethi, Mohinder Singh Taneja,
NY, P. Singh Sandhu, VA Paramjeet Nagpaul, PA,
Ranbir Singh Bhai, CA, Ravi Singh, MD and Sadhu
Singh Rikhiraj, IL,
and Sucha Singh on Tabla presented a musical number based on Raag