In 1956, Fremont, California was born when five smaller Bay Area communities—Centerville, Niles, Irvington, Mission San Jose, and Warm Springs—came together to form one city. Today, each of the five communities maintains a distinct identity as a “district,” while also being a vital part of the larger city. In a similar way, Fremont’s diverse ethnic and religious communities contribute to the life of this city of nearly 217,000 residents.
Today, Fremont is one of the nation’s most diverse cities for its size. A rajagopuram rises in a tidy suburban neighborhood to announce the presence of a growing Hindu community. Sikhs have established an active religious center along a street now named “Gurdwara Road.” The global diversity of both Buddhist and Christian faiths are in evidence. A growing Muslim population includes the largest Afghan community in America. The 2010 census confirmed that the majority ethnic group in Fremont is now Asian; and, in 2013, the City Council reflected this diversity for the first time, with three of the five council members of Asian descent.
In Fremont, interfaith efforts take new, and distinct forms. In addition to traditional interfaith organizations, such as the Tri-City Interfaith Coalition, cultural groups play a unique role in this city. For more than eleven years, the Federation of Indian Associations has organized Fremont’s India Day Festival and Parade, which travels through the heart of the town. Member religious groups include the Mar Thoma Church, the Indian Muslim Council, and a number of Hindu organizations. Since the events of 9/11, the Federation has hosted an annual “Unity Dinner.” Interfaith efforts are also bolstered by the efforts of the Afghan Coalition and the Bridge Building Program of the Centerville Presbyterian Church. But perhaps the most innovative example of Fremont’s efforts to promote better understanding may be found along a little street named “Peace Terrace.” Here, the Islamic Society of the East Bay (ISEB) and St. Paul United Methodist Church stand side-by-side, sharing parking lots and affirming a new model of common ground.
St. Paul and ISEB, like many of Fremont’s faith groups, support their own communities in varied ways, often with a special interest in youth and the elderly. Both the church and the mosque run their own schools—Precious Time Christian Preschool, and Peace Terrace Academy, a full-time Islamic School in operation since 1998. They also find ways to reach out in service to the larger community, with each group serving meals at a local homeless shelter. Fremont’s Sikh community also works with the homeless, including shared efforts with other Bay Area Sikh groups; more recently, the community hosted a blood drive outside of the Fremont Gurdwara. At the Hindu Temple, doctors provide free checkups on a weekly basis: they are among some of the 100 health professionals offering free services at the Festival of India’s health fair.
The strong civic and interfaith fabric of the city—including Fremont’s Human Relations Committee—helps to address discrimination and heal divisions that arise. Yet Fremont continues to struggle with incidents of violence and vandalism against those perceived to be “other.” In addition, amidst rapid change, there is some dissent about how Fremont expresses its identity as a diverse city. Many local citizens responded angrily when flags from other nations were included in Fremont’s 4th of July Parade; others were outraged by a proposal to change the name of the Centerville district to “Little Kabul.” Such conflicts, and conversations, will be ongoing in Fremont. Here, in the new American city, the only constant is change.