Ravi Bhalla sworn in as first Sikh Mayor in New Jersey

As the new Mayor of Hoboken, Bhalla signs executive order ‘welcoming’ all immigrants to the city

By Geeta Goindi

Ravi Bhalla has become the first Indian-American Sikh to head a city in New Jersey. In a historic ceremony on the first day of the new year, he was sworn-in as the 39th Mayor of Hoboken by the state’s Democratic senator Cory Booker.

Bhalla, 44, a turbaned Sikh and former city council member, was accompanied to the inaugural event by his wife Bindya and their two young children.

Addressing a packed gathering at the Hoboken High School, he said, “This past election was a model of diversity showcasing for New Jersey and America a city that cares less about who you love, where you came from, what your gender is, where you worship than they care about your ability to take on the challenges ahead for our city. So while the mark of the moral universe may be long, there is no doubt that here in Hoboken, it bends firmly toward justice”.

On hand at the ceremony were Democratic stalwarts, powerful political leaders of the state. Senator Bob Menendez informed the audience, “To mark this historic day, Senator Cory Booker and I have asked a flag to be flown over the capital of the US”.

Senator Booker made it clear, “This today is not a victory for a narrow community, it is a victory for the principles and ideals of the United States of America, and today the country hears Hoboken again”.

New Jersey’s Attorney General-designate Gurbir Grewal spoke eloquently about his childhood friend Bhalla’s rise to Mayor of Hoboken noting he is “the first Sikh American to achieve that goal in this state and one of only a handful of individuals to accomplish that goal across the US”. Grewal himself is a trailblazer: he is the first Sikh nominated as attorney general in America.

“No matter how difficult it may be to maintain your Sikh identity in the country, you can do so and you can thrive”, he told the ceremony. “There is simply no conflict between your faith and your success to achieve”.

The attorney general-designate enthused, “There is just something so right and so encouraging about celebrating this moment as we turn the page on 2017 and embark upon a new era because today, together all of us in this room are turning the page on a year that saw a rise in intolerance across this country. We’re turning a page on a year that saw an increase in attacks on people based on hate and ignorance and bias”, he said in an apparent reference to the election of President Donald Trump.

In his first act as mayor, Bhalla signed an executive order officially designating Hoboken as a “fair and welcoming” city.

Clearly a repudiation of Trump’s immigration policy, he underscored the order sends an “unmistakable message” that the Mile Square City is friendly to all immigrants. The 12-page order states that no city employee can ask any individual about their immigration status; bars federal immigration agents from accessing municipal facilities or databases; establishes a Fair and Welcoming City Commission that will focus on immigrant issues, among other clauses.

“The Hoboken we know and love was built by immigrants and today is sustained by immigrants”, Bhalla stated. “This first executive order is a reflection of our quintessential American values and sends an unmistakable message that Hoboken is a place that welcomes all who are ready, willing and able to contribute to our great city”.

At the inaugural ceremony, Bhalla, no stranger to bias and hate, dwelt on ‘The Dotbusters’ movement of the 1980s which targeted Indian-Americans residing in New Jersey. He recalled how the rising tide of hate and bigotry culminated in brutal assaults including the murder of Navroze Mody, a 30-year-old Citicorp executive, and how the community then “mobilized to bring about official recognition of hate crimes as civil rights violations that can potentially affect anyone”.

“What a long way we have come”, Bhalla said. “Nearly 30 years after Navroze’s brutal death just blocks away from where I live, Hoboken elected an Indian and Sikh American as its Mayor”.

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