The Sikh Center of NY was built in 1972. It is one of five Sikh Centers in Queens. The Center itself, on Parsons Blvd in Flushing, is one of two locations under the management of President Hardev Singh Padda, the second one found in Queens Village.
The Center was built following an influx of Sikh immigrants from the Punjab region of India. Even today, most of its congregants are immigrants from Punjab that don’t speak English. However, some of its younger members now are first generation Americans and are raised bilingual. It currently hosts about 1,500 congregants, a population that has neither decreased nor increased significantly in the past twenty-five years, according to the Center’s president. Members mainly travel from all over Queens to attend services, although on the weekends, participants attend from as far out as the Bronx. Many of the congregants work hard as construction workers or taxi drivers in the hopes that their children will go to college and move on to successful careers, which they often do.
The building itself contains a sanctuary on the main floor that serves as the real center of spiritual life. Here all religious services are held, including weddings, birthdays, holidays, and other celebrations. The sanctuary opens every day at 4 AM for morning services and closes at 9 PM following evening services. Saturdays and Sundays are the institution’s busiest times, as services run from 10 AM to 4 PM and most members attend only on those days.
For the community of immigrants, though, the Sikh Center serves more than a religious purpose. The top floor of the building houses a Saturday/Sunday school for sixty young members who learn Punjabi. Classes are free and taught by volunteers. The upper level also contains rooms where new immigrants or those in need can sleep for free. A middle-aged member who immigrated alone to the United States in 1998 had a friend in Astoria who referred him to this institution. He was given free sleeping arrangements in these rooms, which allowed him to focus on finding a job and adjusting to life in a new country.
The basement of the Center similarly provides for the Flushing community, Sikhs as well as non-Sikhs. Three free, strictly vegetarian meals a day are offered on this floor for anyone who enters the Center, regardless of religious affiliation. All the meals are cooked on site with eighty percent of the langar, or free food, being donated by members and the other twenty percent paid for by the institution itself. The Center’s volunteers also run a charity collection to further aid new immigrants and provide relief for communities in need around the world.
The Center serves its community not only as a religious and community service center, but it also helps Sikh immigrants network and find employment. A community member noted that there are plans of expanding the building in order to be able to accommodate its congregants’ spiritual, social, and economic needs. It seems to be a place that takes care of its members and reflects the values of Sikhism in its services.