Horsetown in California debates Hindu Temple plans

The Southern California city of Norco markets itself as “Horsetown USA,” and it’s not unusual for cowboy hat-wearing residents to head out for lunch or run errands on horseback in its Old West-styled downtown.

Local leaders celebrate that rural, equestrian lifestyle and are protective of it. Those who build must ensure their property includes Western architectural features such as a metal roof or overhang.

But some Indian-Americans are questioning the sincerity of that standard after the City Council rejected a proposal for a Hindu cultural center on a hilltop partly on grounds that the large, domed building wouldn’t fit in. They think the decision — which came after residents urged the city to keep its culture and questioned why proponents chose the site — is discriminatory.

Dr. Krupali Tejura, a radiation oncologist who grew up in nearby Corona and works at an area hospital, got involved in the debate because she was offended by those who argued the center didn’t fit. “How does a community or a city decide it doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle? How far does this go?” she asked.

Out of Norco’s 27,000-odd population, Asian-Americans, including Indian-Americans number just 59, according to 2010 census data. Nonetheless, the Indian-Americans have been seeking to assert their constitutional right by insisting they be allowed by the City to build a 3,700 square-foot structure.

The City has not agreed, ostensibly because officials feel that the structure will create drainage and parking problems and with its large dome would not be a fit in the “western aesthetic” of the city, known colloquially as “Horsetown USA”.

News reports said that there is a Sikh temple in Norco inside a grange hall and Indian movies are shown at a Corona theater. Some local people like Bonnie Slager, president of the Norco Horsemen’s Association, were quoted by news agency Associated Press as saying that while the Hindu community is welcome, a big-domed building with potential drainage problems is not welcome.

“Not that, things have to look like a Western fort. We just really don’t want things that are all glass and metal and look kind of like something from Disneyland’s Tomorrowland,” she was quoted as saying by the agency.

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