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.
Fremont, located in the southeast corner of the San Francisco Bay Area, is home to Mission San José, the fourteenth oldest Spanish mission in California. As of 2010, Asians comprise fifty percent of Fremont’s population, with a large number making their home in the Mission San Jose district. With a population of a little over 214,000 people, Fremont is today one the nation’s most diverse cities for its size. The religious traditions of the world are in evidence in Fremont, with a rajagopuram rising in a tidy suburban neighborhood to announce the presence of a growing Hindu community. In Fremont, Sikhs have established an active religious center along a street now called “Gurdwara Road.” The diversity of the global Buddhist community is also present, as Thai, Chinese, and Burmese temples—and a women’s monastic retreat center—dot the landscape. Fremont’s many mosques include the Islamic Society of the East Bay, built next door to a church on a road they named “Peace Terrace.”
Interfaith activity in Fremont began with the Tri-City Ministerial Association, a Protestant clergy group founded in the early 1960s. Over the years, as the city and its religious leadership became more diverse, the organization expanded its mission and changed its name to the Tri-City Interfaith Council (TCIC). In 2011, the TCIC hosted its 50th annual Thanksgiving service, a celebration of prayers, music, readings, and dance, with the theme “Unity in Diversity.” Just as the TCIC’s work extends beyond Fremont, serving the neighboring cities of Newark and Union City, other regional efforts make an impact on Fremont’s interfaith life: the vital Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group, based in San Mateo, is but one example. Within Fremont itself, home to the largest Afghan population in the U.S., the Afghan Coalition and the Bridge Building Program of the Centerville Presbyterian Church bolster local interfaith relations. In addition, the City of Fremont’s Human Relations Commission engages in a range of efforts to address discrimination and promote positive inter-group relations, helping to create a context in which interfaith activity can thrive. The city’s encounter with religious diversity is chronicled in the film “Fremont, U.S.A.”
Directory of Religious Centers in Fremont
The Pluralism Project is no longer updating its directory of religious centers outside of Boston, but you can find an archive of the Fremont directory here.