That these are troubled times in America and that bigotry has again boldly raised its head was brought home once more on June 21 when vandals broke in, destroyed, and spewed racist and political remarks all over the popular India Palace restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The atrocious graffiti sprayed on the paintings and walls included hate-filled words like “white power” and “go back to your country,” directed at an enterprise that has been around for three decades and billed by Trip Advisor as the oldest Indian restaurant in New Mexico. The crime also had political overtones with “Trump 2020” brazenly emblazoned amidst overturned tables, emptied wine racks, a smashed buffet, and a gutted kitchen.
Restaurant owner Baljit Singh told the media he came in on the afternoon of June 22 to get ready for the dinner service when he was met with the sight of the horrifying destruction. Restaurant employees called the police; media reports say they came almost three hours later. (The owner was not available to comment at press time.)
The racially charged attack on the downtown restaurant has sent tremors of outrage in the local community and shock amongst Indian Americans in the area.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber, who has been in the news for wanting to bring down three controversial monuments in his city, including a Spanish Conquistador, called the vandalism a hate crime and in a statement June 23 said it was "sickening and appalling." He continued, "We will find whoever did it and punish them to the full extent of the law. The Singhs are a long-standing Sikh family that has used its own resources to feed homeless Santa Feans through the goodness of their hearts. For them to be attacked this way breaks our hearts. We absolutely reject racism, intolerance, and hate."
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, the first Democratic Latina in the U.S. to be elected to the office, tweeted that she had spoken with Singh on the morning of June 23 and told the Indian American businessman that the community was with him. “I am absolutely heartbroken and disgusted by this racist attack,” she posted. “We will not stand for such hatred in New Mexico.”
The extensive damage at India Palace is estimated to be around $100,000. Nellie Tischler, co-owner of another Indian restaurant in the city, Paper Dosa, epitomizes what happened when the news broke. Shaken by what had transpired, on the night of June 22, she launched a GoFuneMe campaign to support the Singh family whom she had never even met. She told India-West, “It doesn’t matter. We have to show solidarity. A hate crime on one person is a hate crime on the whole community. It is scary, we are all vulnerable.” Everyone rallied. Within 10 hours, $56,000 was raised.
The digital world also provided a peek into the prevailing mood. On the restaurant’s Facebook handle, Ron Walters wrote, “For the (uncountable number)th time, I am embarassed and ashamed by the ignorance and bigotry of some people in our country. I hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that these good people are able to persevere and reopen.” Annie Vought said, “Please let us know how we can help…I am so so sorry this has happened. Please know that you are truly loved and I know Santa Fe will come out of the woodwork to help you rebuild.” Diana Boyd was blunt; “Trump has fueled the hate crimes,” she wrote and detailed her reasons for saying so. It was not missed by netizens that the attack on India Palace comes on the heels of protests in support of Black Lives Matter.
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund executive director Kiran Kaur Gill, while condemning the vandalization as an act of “cowardice and hatred,” said the group would work with law enforcement “to ensure they thoroughly investigate this crime, and that the perpetrators of this hate crime are found and prosecuted under the appropriate hate/bias motivated statutes.”
The Sikh Coalition released a statement with Sim J. Singh, senior manager of policy and advocacy, saying: “We expect New Mexico's elected officials, business owners, and faith leaders to join the Sikh community in unequivocally condemning this act of white supremacist hate. These racist acts are meant to divide us, but we are strongest when we stand together.”
Amrit Bala responded to the Sikh Coalition on Facebook: “Like this is going to stop the hard working owners to close the resturant…. its takes more than vandalizing from people with disgusting attitdues to break us💪.” Kulwant Pawandeep Rai summed up the spirit of grit and perseverance with: “Heartbreaking but we cannot give up. Keep trying to educate these arrogant and ignorant racist bigots and rebuild your business. We shall prevail.”