A process of adjustment is under way as hundreds of recent residents get used to Greenwood's culture -- and vice versa
The scent of pungent spices wafts from garages morning and night as some of this south metro city's newest residents prepare meals outside to keep cooking smells out of the house. A local produce company is growing traditional Indian vegetables. And an area high school has broadened its celebration of international cultures.
Cultural assimilation is taking place on two fronts in this city 15 miles south of Monument Circle: Hundreds of new Sikhs are adapting to life as Hoosiers, and Greenwood residents are learning about Indian traditions.
"It's something as a community that we have to sort of adjust to," said Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson. "As much as I need to understand them, they need to understand us.
"It's a two-way street."
The changes have arrived swiftly in Greenwood, an overwhelmingly white, mostly Protestant city of nearly 45,000 just south of the Marion County line, where officials recently approved plans to open the metro area's third Sikh temple.
An estimated 2,000 Indian Sikh families have settled in the small cities and suburban neighborhoods south of Indianapolis, most in the past two years.
Many were lured by the area's lower housing costs and its crossroads location on trucking routes. The first to arrive spread the word, and the population has increased as much as tenfold in two years, some estimate.
"When I come here, I love it," said Jatinder Singh, a trucker who moved from Washington state. "I also love the people in this area."
Many of the changes are playing out in the Homecoming at University Park development off Main Street in Greenwood, home to many Sikhs and within walking distance of the site of the new temple on Graham Road on the city's eastside.
Henderson attended a recent Sikh service inside a two-story brick home in Homecoming that is serving temporarily as a temple. He was honored for supporting the Sikh community.
As they wait to move into their new temple, or Gurdwara, members of Greenwood's Sikh community worship at the house, surrounded by other homes in a typical suburban neighborhood.
After the ceremony, Sikhs gathered outside for a traditional meal of roti (similar to a tortilla), lentils, vegetables, rice and yogurt.
Henderson, 65 and a lifelong Greenwood resident, wore a suit and tie. He also wore an orange head covering, customary of Sikhs, and ate karah parshad, a sacred pudding of flour, sugar and butter distributed at the end of religious ceremonies.
"Diversity is something that a lot of people shudder at," Henderson said. "There was a time when diversity was only black and white. Now diversity is multi-colored."
Elaine and Steve Dougherty, who own S&E Produce and Flowers, have begun growing native Indian vegetables on their Clark Township farm, a short drive from Homecoming.
Local Greenwood residents have taken a liking to barq, a squash-like vegetable that Elaine Dougherty said is delicious on the grill topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
"It's definitely changing," Elaine said of Greenwood's cultural landscape. "We have to learn to work together. They're asking things of us that we've never heard of before."
Schools near Greenwood also have been adjusting.
What started out as a Punjabi American Culture Fair last year at Whiteland High School has evolved into the International Cultures Fair at the insistence of the Indian Sikh students. The majority of Sikhs -- the world's fifth-largest religion -- live in the Punjab region of northwest India, and their first big immigration to the United States began in the late 1890s.
In addition to cultural offerings, the school has an English-as-a-new-language class, as well as resource study halls designed for students with limited English proficiency. An instructional assistant at the school is from India.
Whiteland High's demographics have changed dramatically in less than a decade. The school had a 1 percent minority population in the 1998-99 school year. The minority population now stands at 14 percent, including about 110 Sikh students.
"We're hoping the school has been a valuable asset, because this also has been a community change," said John Schilawski, assistant principal at the school. "We're hoping we can be in the forefront in helping facilitate that."
Mistaken for Muslim
As Sikhs adjust to a new way of life, some of their traditions have found their way to Greenwood.
Many are used to cooking in their garages so that pungent odors from onions, garlic and ginger do not seep into their homes, said Beenu Sikand, a Realtor who has sold about 200 homes to Sikh families.
A Sikh who moved to Indianapolis from northern India 16 years ago, Sikand also acts as a translator.
"I feel bad for all of the other Americans who live (near Sikh neighbors)," she said, trying to suppress a chuckle. "Every day and morning, they have to smell ginger, garlic and onion."
Many baptized Sikhs carry a kirpan, a ceremonial blade that resembles a dagger. Because of the dastar, or turban, long beards and sari, Sikhs are often mistaken as Muslim. The two religions are not related.
"All of this can be misunderstood," said Philip Goff, a professor of religious studies and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The Sikhs gave a presentation to Henderson and local police officials two years ago about their culture.
"I told them, 'This is the Sikh population. They look Muslim, but they are not Muslim," Sikand said. "They dress like that, but there is a difference."
Greenwood officials say there have been few problems.
"I don't know of any kind of harassment or any kind of discrimination against them," Greenwood Police Chief Joe Pitcher said. "It's been a good relationship."
Sikh leaders plan to renovate and move into an existing residence on the 4-acre Graham Road site, east of I-65, and use it as a temple until they're ready to build a new temple there. Last month, a city board approved a special zoning exception to allow the temple in a residential area.
It would serve about 200 families, many of whom live, like trucker Jatinder Singh, in Homecoming at University Park.
Neighbors of the temple site have voiced concern about increased traffic on Graham, which narrows from four to two lanes as it approaches the temple.
Jeannine Nelson said she and her neighbors would alert the city to any traffic snarls.
"Every time one thing goes wrong, there will be a complaint," said Nelson, 47, who lives with her husband, Don, about a half-mile south of the temple. "And every neighbor will do the same. Everyone is so unhappy about this."
Sikand, a Realtor for 21st Century Diversified, sold her first home to a Sikh follower in Plainfield two years ago.
Like Singh, the buyer was a trucker and just happened to stop in Central Indiana. Word got out, and the Sikh population has mushroomed. Most have come from California, New York and New Jersey.
Many discovered they could buy $200,000 homes in Indiana for what they were paying for apartments in California.
The majority of them, according to Sikand, are truck drivers, with a few convenience store owners and grocery and restaurant owners sprinkled in.
"They bought very big, nice homes," Sikand said. "They are happy."
Sikand often visits her clients in Homecoming, where she likens that atmosphere to a mini Delhi, India's second-largest city, as adults chat and children play outside.
"It feels like home," she said, "and the U.S.A."
For Sikhs such as Chanchal Singh, a leader in the local Sikh temple, Greenwood is now the place that they call home.
"We would like to tell the other members of the community here in Greenwood that from the outside we look different, but from the inside, our hearts are the same," said Singh, 37, after the ceremony last week honoring Henderson.
"We are all children of God. We have respect for each other. We want to be part of the community and help it grow. We want to support them, and we also look for support from them." [Link]
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