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Council urges South Asians to action at Town Hall

The Naturally Recklez Tassa Group performs at "Salute to South Asia" at Flushing Town Hall. Photo by Rebecca Henely
Councilmen Dan Halloran (l.) and Peter Vallone Jr. (r.) pose with Yolanda Gallagher (second from l.-r.), James Gallagher and Ashook Ramsaran, who received Council citations for rallying to landmark the Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows. Photo by Rebecca Henely
TimesLedger Newspapers

The South Asian Queens community, especially Sikhs, have been targeted because of prejudice and struggle to find a political voice.

A “Salute to South Asia” event, hosted by the recently formed Indian Jewish Council at Flushing Town Hall Sunday, encouraged one of Queens’ newest communities to vote, take part in local government and build partnerships with their neighbors of other faiths and creeds. More than 100 people attended.

“If we stand together, we’ll be seen. If we speak as one, we shall be heard,” said Richie Lipkowitz, who created the council with Ashook Ramsaran, president of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin.

Lipkowitz said he and Ramsaran began creating the Indian Jewish Council about a year ago after speaking about it two years ago with former Forest Hills U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. Lipkowitz said the council was meant to forge interfaith relationships beyond the occasional one-year event.

“We decided to take the next step to friendship,” Lipkowitz said.

The event featured music and dance by South Asian artists as well as speeches urging the community to work together and with their neighbors. The group also honored City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), as well as his brothers Paul and Perry, for pulling two young girls caught in the ocean in Long Beach, N.J., earlier this summer.

“It takes a lot of time and courage to put an event like this together,” said Harpreet Toor, of the Sikh Cultural Society of Richmond Hill.

Toor and others began the event by talking about the shooting at a Sikh Temple this August in Oak Creek, Wis., in which white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six people before shooting himself.

“Unfortunately, Sikhs have too often been victims of senseless violence all around the United States simply for how they look,” said Harbachan Singh, of Community Board 8.

He said that to fight prejudice, Sikhs and all South Asians must join together with their neighbors, learn lessons and draw strength from each other.

Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, gave a speech on civic engagement in which she encouraged the community to look at how they can make the world a better place for their neighbors.

“We believe that when you have served humanity, you have served the Lord,” Mysorekar said.

Elected officials at the event also urged South Asian residents to register to vote. City Comptroller John Liu said while the city policy makers do track who votes in the city but not who residents vote for.

“We want to make sure that we’re heard and our voices are counted and the way we do that is by voting,” Liu said.

At the event, New Jersey state Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula gave the Vallone brothers the New Jersey Assembly Humanitarian Lifesaver Awards for saving a 9- and a 10-year-old girl who had gotten in trouble when they had gone swimming after-hours.

“It was one of those moments you thank God for being in that location at that time,” Paul Vallone said.

Peter Vallone also presented Ramsaran, as well as James and Yolanda Gallagher, with Council citations for getting the Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows landmarked.

“I fought for the Brinckerhoff Cemetery to be saved, but these three people got it done,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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