Last week, Indian-American politician Ravi Bhalla was targeted in racist fliers distributed in Hoboken, New Jersey labeling him a “terrorist.”
Today Bhalla was voted to become New Jersey’s first ever Sikh mayor after edging out five other candidates.
“Thank you for having faith in me, for having faith in our community, faith in our state, and faith in our country; this is what America is all about,” he said in his victory speech.
“We’ve been through a bruising campaign … but now is the time we come together and see who we can work with to bring this city forward.”
Bhalla is no stranger to racism and discrimination. During school, he regularly faced bullying and harassment because of his turban and the way he looked.
“At this point in my political career, I have a thick skin,” he told the Huffington Post. “This is not something that is new to me.”
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Sikhs have been regularly targeted for racial profiling and hate crimes. Many mistake them as Muslim because they wear a turban as a sign of their faith, making them easy targets of deplorable hate crimes.
“…there is no conflict in this country between being a Sikh and being a successful American,” Bhalla told the Huffington Post.
“I think it’s important for Sikh children to realize that they should have pride in their faith and know that in this country, the sky is the limit,” Bhalla said. “I hope as mayor, I can present a positive image of Sikh to the general public and I hope that it will make it easier for young kids in school.”
The racist fliers claimed that they were funded by fellow candidate Michael DeFusco, but he has denied these claims.
“I condemn this piece of racist garbage in the strongest possible terms,” DeFusco said in a statement. “Political stunts like this are everything that’s wrong with politics today.”
Hopefully, Bhalla’s victory will inspire more people of color to go out and make the difference despite challenges they might endure because of their race.