When 188,000 people, their lives and property endangered by the possible collapse or otherwise dangerous erosion of an Oroville Dam spillway, were ordered to evacuate their homes on Sunday, the West Sacramento Sikh community welcomed more than 300 of them with food and shelter. The Sacramento Bee reports that the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh temple was one temple that opened its doors during the crisis, with its staff of 19 people working to cook for and house those displaced by the evacuation, which was lifted yesterday.
Many of the evacuees were Sikh themselves — the Central Valley's Sikh community is large, with 70,000 in the Sacramento area and more than 40,000 in the Yuba City-Marysville area — but many were not. Regardless, they all received a roof, toiletries, bedding, and vegetarian food.
The offer of shelter resonated strongly with 38-year-old Juan Cervantes of Olivehurst, an evacuated area near Yuba City who works picking fruit in Central Valley area farms. "These people are just like me,” Cervantes told the LA Times. “I’m Catholic, but we have the same God. We have the same heart. The same hands.” Cervantes was housed during the evacuation at another Sacramento area Sikh temple, Shri Guru Ravidas.
"This is their home," said Nirmal Singh, a priest a that temple. “Our faith teaches us to help everyone. The poor, the hungry, it doesn't matter who you are.”
Sam Lyon, a 38-year-old security guard who left from Olivehurst with his family and ended up at the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh temple, called the situation a "snafu" in speaking to the Sacramento Bee. "I had no idea where to go. The alert didn’t tell us anything. We came down Highway 65 and made it to the Thunder Valley casino, where we tried to figure out what to do, but they told us we couldn’t stay.”
Following up with Lyon, the Guardian learned that he's a vocal supporter of President Tump and his recent travel ban, and now he feels "like a refugee in my own country." In this difficult time, he's thankful for the care he received: "We had nowhere to go,” he said.
Nevertheless, Lyon indicated to the Guardian that he still supports the extreme vetting espoused by the President and his administration. Sikhs, including those in the Central Valley area, have been targeted by anti-Muslim sentiment, but the distinction is not lost on Lyon. “Sikhs are not Muslims," he said, specifying that he wasn't in favor of a religious test regardless, just further vetting.
That difference isn't one that all area residents grasp, or care to. Sikhs in the Sacramento area still recall that a member of their community was shot in September of 2001 in an act of "revenge" against Osama bin Laden when an area man said he wanted to “go out and shoot some towel heads.”
Again, Lyon's support of the ban is not rooted in religion, he tells the Guardian. Instead, he saw many "war age" refugees on television and wants the US to take extra time and care to evaluate people who could be threats to national safety. From the publication:
The Guardian asked a hypothetical — interrupted briefly when Lyon received [a] heart-shaped [Valentine's] card from the volunteer — what if a refugee were a young Sikh man, fleeing civil war or sectarian violence in India?
“That’s a catch-22 for me. I want to be able to help people but you’ve got to understand, if you’re coming from a country that we know is radicalized,” he said, “we want to vet you or research you first.”
His thoughts on Trump and his policies aside, Lyon left the situation humbled by the power of generosity. 'It gives you hope," he said.