Like Alexie, I call myself an Indian. Unlike Alexie, I’m the kind Columbus was actually looking for. Guess we lucked out on that one.
Late summer night in the Gurdwara parking lot, Five Sikhs are playing basketball on a court barely illuminated by the light of the prayers going on in the building. They will play until the brown, leather ball is rolled aside because they have been called inside to pay their respects. They will play until an errant pass or shove causes a kara to jam into a hand, causing more pain to the jamee than the owner of the bracelet. They will play until the running and jumping causes their dastar (turban) to become crooked, but quickly straightened before entering the temple. They will play until the ball bounces off the wall, that has been desecrated with racial slurs and accusations of “terrorist”, and disappears into the shadows.
My father, my tall, bearded, turbaned, father, thought it would be a good idea to move us from the safety of the diversity of New York City to the calm, quiet, white South, Hardeeville, SC to beexact. My brothers and I attended a tiny private school that proudly displayed the Confederate flag, promoted strong conservative beliefs, and reminded us daily to be good Christians. I was too young to know I was different, I was too young to know their beliefs were any different from mine, they sounded the same to me. Be a good person, love one another. I was too young to know that differences in skin color were supposed to be feared and warranted hatred. I was too young to know that just because Sikhs looked like Muslims, they were thought to be not only Muslims, but the same as a group of radical Muslims that were filled with hatred and fear of differences. Different appearance, different beliefs, different values. But I was too young too know all of this. So we played on the playground together, tailgated at football games together, went to proms together, sometimes we even went to Church and Gurdwara together. We embraced our differences and brought two entirely different worlds together to make our own. I am so lucky to have such a unique experience and perspective with my blend of Indian and Southern roots. I have made it my passion and my goal to share my experiences with others and spread Sikh awareness wherever I can.
When I first began school in the South, probably not one person knew what Sikh even meant, thirteen years later, my beloved redneck friends not only know what a Sikh is but they want to learn more. There are people in my tiny Southern town that enjoy watching Bollywood movies but know how to bhangra too. I think my work there is done.