Op-Ed originally published in the San Antonio Express-News
On Wednesday, residents of a Jewish community on the North Side of San Antonio awoke to see that their neighborhood had been terrorized overnight. Vandals had scrawled anti-Semitic slurs on more than 30 cars and homes.
The hateful rhetoric draws from long legacies of genocidal violence targeting the Jewish community. For the families of San Antonio residents who survived the Holocaust, I can’t begin to imagine what Wednesday must have been like.
I remember when one of my closest friends — a Sikh American — was attacked in a hate crime. His attackers shouted slurs at him while beating him nearly unconscious. Two years later, he still suffers from displaced teeth, and he still thinks often about the safety of his children.
It horrifies me to think how our Jewish neighbors must have felt upon experiencing such hatred directed at them.
It is deeply troubling that some people in our city — in 2015 — feel such misguided hatred and animosity for their neighbors.
Unfortunately, the attack on our local Jewish community is emblematic of a much broader crisis that is impacting minority communities all across our nation.
The Washington Post reported last week that “so far this year, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police — one every nine days.” The systematic targeting and devaluation of African-Americans has led to a popular movement utilizing the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The fact that this movement has swept the nation and has become one of the central issues for our next presidential election illustrates how divided our country is on these issues.
Two months ago, a white supremacist named Dylann Roof entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered nine African-Americans in cold blood. This month, three years ago, another white supremacist — Wade Michael Page — entered a Sikh place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and killed six members of its congregation.
The hateful rhetoric that these two white supremacists spewed draws from the same pool of language and ideology that we saw here in San Antonio. While the hatred that motivated the vandalism is scary, what’s even scarier is that it could have been much worse.
In San Antonio, we like to think that nothing so horrific could happen here. It is important for us to recognize that the disease of bigotry plagues all of modern America and that we must be proactive to prevent it from infecting our own homes.
The first step we can take is to educate our children and to expose them to our city’s diversity. Introducing our kids — and ourselves — to new ideas and cultures will help all of us open our hearts and minds to one another. One amazing resource here in San Antonio is the Institute of Texan Cultures, which exhibits the rich diversity of our communities and offers programs where people can encounter and learn about their neighbors’ various cultural backgrounds and traditions.
We must understand what is at stake here. An attack on our local Jewish community is an attack on all of us. Targeting people on the basis of cultural and religious identities goes against everything we stand for as a city and as a country.
As a proud San Antonian, I know that we believe in equality and the individual right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We should not have to live in an America where we are afraid in our homes, schools or places of worship. When one community is unsafe, no one is safe.
As we have seen in our history time and time again, we are strongest as a nation when we all stand together and celebrate the richness of our diversity. This is our America, and the America I want for our children — one in which we stand by our principles and live with one another in harmony, no matter our religious, cultural or ethnic backgrounds.