The city of Norwich is opening its arms a little wider to new visitors, thanks to a Norwich businessman.
Swaranjit Singh Khalsa created two signs that spell out “welcome” in seven languages. Khalsa paid for the signs, and Norwich Public Works crews installed them at two of the city’s entrances.
“This is not just a sign for me. For me it’s more like representing the community that lives here,” said Khalsa.
Welcome is not the word Khalsa would use to describe how he felt the first time he stepped on US soil.
“People used to stare at me like who is this guy, what’s this turban,” recalled Khalsa.
He immigrated to New Jersey for graduate school in 2007 and moved to Norwich in 2010. He now operates the city’s Shell gas station and also works in real estate flipping houses. He lives in Norwich with his wife, who moved here from India when she was three years old, and his 17-month-old daughter.
“When I first moved here me and my wife thought that there’s a lack of diversity,” said Khalsa.
A trip to Vancouver two years ago inspired Khalsa to create the signs, which are written in English, Punjabi, Khalsa’s native language, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Italian, and German.
“We have a very diverse population in Norwich. It’s nice to put a sign up that everybody can read,” said Norwich resident Gerard Gagnon.
A local pastor, Nancy Forsstrom, said many of her parishioners’ children and grandchildren go to Norwich Free Academy.
“I know there’s a lot of different languages that are spoken there, I think they’re very attractive and a great idea to have different languages there,” said Forsstrom.
Khalsa said he’s making sure others who come to this country feel like they’re part of the community.
“With this sign we are not just catering to one or two people, we are catering to a huge amount of people globally,” he explained.
He hopes this is just the beginning. He plans to makes to make for signs for the city and put one right in front of City Hall with 25 different languages.
“These are the small things that make people welcome. That they are part of the city,” Khalsa said.
His mission to spread awareness about his own religion, Sikh, have gained both local and national attention. He was recognized by the FBI for his work training police in Connecticut to recognize the differences between Arabs, Muslims, and Sikhs.
“He’s terrific. If every community had a person like him they can really get a lot of things done,” said Norwich City Manager John Salomone.
Khalsa believes efforts to embrace his city’s diversity could reach beyond a nice gesture.
“If you feel connected to your city you will do investments here, you will feel safer here, and this is what we want, we want everybody to say that’s their home,” said Khalsa.