Indian town hall in Naperville meant to dispel cultural misconceptions

Posted9/25/2015 4:00 PM

It might start with a misunderstanding, a simple case of mistaken identity.

Repeated time and time again, it turns into a stereotype and then a prejudice.


Taken to the worst extreme, these cultural, ethnic and religious misunderstandings can lead to hate crimes, say the organizers of a social awareness event happening soon in Naperville.

Leaders of Naperville Indian Community Outreach say they know some people have misconceptions about Indian Americans -- who they are and what they're like, their culture, language, customs, gestures and background.

The best way to overcome those misconceptions, organizers say, is with education. A town hall discussion is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 at the Naperville municipal center, 400 S. Eagle St., to start the awareness-building process.

"We have to get people to understand what they don't have knowledge of," said Sanjog Aul of Bolingbrook, a Naperville Indian Community Outreach member who is facilitating the town hall.

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For starters, he wants people to know Indians are not all IT workers who like spicy food and eat curry.

"We have to tell them that India is not about snake charmers and elephants," said Aul, a consultant in technology, talent management and talent acquisition who hosts a talk show for a company he started called CIO Talk Radio. "It's much more than that."

A brief presentation at the beginning of the town hall will explain the makeup of India and some of the cultural differences between those from the northern and southern parts of the country. Then, Aul will engage attendees -- whom he hopes will be from all a variety of backgrounds -- in conversations about what might trigger cultural misunderstandings and how to avoid them.

"It'll be a thought-provoking discussion," Aul said.

Hosts of the town hall, called Building Bridges -- Raising Social Awareness, will have the recent road rage incident charged as a hate crime in Darien in mind as they convene community to discuss cultural misconceptions. But the event wasn't planned in response to the beating earlier this month in which a 17-year-old from Willowbrook is accused of yelling racial slurs at a 53-year-old Sikh-American man and punching him in the face.

Krishna Bansal, chairman of Naperville Indian Community Outreach, said some people see the beards and turbans worn by Sikh men and confuse them with Afghans, who then are unfortunately linked in some people's minds with acts of terrorism.


Providing education, for example, that Sikhs wear beards and turbans as signs of their faith in justice, liberty and freedom, can help dispel wrongly held beliefs. So can teaching suburban residents that Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world and its followers believe in living an honest life and caring for others.

"It is more to educate and create awareness so we can avoid some of the types of incidents that have been happening across the state and the country," Bansal said.

Organizers expect at least 50 people to attend the free town hall, which is the first of what Naperville Indian Community Outreach plans to make a quarterly series. Future town halls could cover career and workforce development, leadership, civic responsibility, education, health and other social problems, Bansal and Aul said.

"We want to create a system for cross-community collaboration, education, appreciation, camaraderie," Aul said. "That's the ideal state we want to get to."

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