One Sikh Girl’s Struggle to be Accepted as American

My earliest memories of Louisiana are clouded by accents I barely could decipher and confusing Cajun dishes I had never seen before in my life. Even though I was born in the United States, moving from New York to the Deep South was a culture shock for both me and my classmates who were not used to seeing a Sikh girl walk into class with a thick braid past her hips every day. My classmates had never heard of Sikhi, and I was bullied for my faith and race. A girl in my sixth-grade class threatened to cut my hair off, and the other girls refused to talk to me during recess. I became reserved and quiet, convinced that my otherness meant I didn’t deserve their friendship; that I was in some way not an American.

 

UPDATEDAt age thirteen, I cracked. Cutting my hair for the first time and watching my poor mother cry as I, in her eyes, lost an important part of my identity and upbringing in a matter of seconds. But upon my return to middle school, my classmates marveled at my shoulder-length curls. One girl claimed, “Wow, maybe guys will actually like you now!” Others finally made an effort to talk to me at lunch.

Still, the difference in their behavior stung and it took me six years to fully accept my identity and move past what happened to me.  Even though I escaped by going to boarding school where I made friends who were genuinely interested in my Sikhi culture, I battled bitter memories and depression throughout my teen years, recalling the words of those who harassed me.

These seemingly “un-harmful” instances are sometimes considered a part of growing up, but they can have a long-lasting effect on how kids view the world around them and how they socialize with others. Bullying can cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety. As an Asian-American, I know about the culture of shame that surrounds mental health. Trying to uphold the “model minority” myth, it can be difficult for Asian-Americans to seek help and even harder to cope when one lacks a close religious or ethnic community.

Often times I hear desi aunties say, “This is not our country. We are seen as immigrants no matter what, and we have to deal with discrimination if we want to live here.” This is alarming because the community has accepted the discrimination and internalized it like how I did when I was little. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken in the Asian-American community. We deserve our place in American society. We are important. We are Americans. We are worthy.

 

Ravleen Kaur is a student at The Ohio State University studying public affairs and public health. Her hobbies include drinking over-sweetened coffee and doing Bhangra in public spaces. She is currently planning to run away from her home state in the Deep South and eventually work in the public health field.

 

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

Moving Through the Storm: An Entrepreneur on Overcoming Bullying

Nobody should have to deal with bullying. It sucks.

My cycle started at home with an angry and abusive dad. It continued to church, with an abusive and frustrated older youth, and continued into school in a post-9/11 world when nobody was really educated on Indians in America. I got all the normal stuff – Osama, Apu, Terrorist, got a bomb?, plus a few extra because I wasn’t just Indian; I was fat and Indian.

acttochangemathew

In high school, I turned to football and ice hockey as a means to release some of my frustration. It gave me a shared sense of team and identity, and I found leadership where I could serve other people. I found a lot of happiness in that.

I wish I could tell you that bullying is a thing of the past. It’s not. That it stops when you “grow up.”  It doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t change the trajectory of how it affects your life. I wish I had grown up with the stories of those like me. Of those who had struggled and overcome. So let me tell you how I did it:

  1. Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts: Build confidence.
  2. Choose people who make you happy: Build joy/trust/
  3. Find courage: Let yourself love. Do what you love.
  4. Read: Learn new things. Find new hobbies.
  5. Change the world: Execute on something you want to see different in the world.
  6. Serve: Find yourself in service to others. The joys of giving are unparalleled.

The truth is falling into any minority group carries with it burdens that never seem to disappear.  In my world of startups, it could mean more challenges in raising capital, securing partnerships, or gaining respect/credibility for the same or more work of people around you who don’t look like you (read what’s happening to Asian Americans in Silicon Valley.) It won’t change unless we tackle them at an institutional level involving the C-Suite and ranking political office.

I strive to meet people who have more experiences and stories in effectively dealing with these adversities so that I can learn. I seek out and listen to the stories of people who deal with similar challenges or understand the struggle through a context of their own.

I hope to be that resource for others too. We’re all people. The key to humanity is remembering your humanity and recognizing theirs. Nothing and nobody is binary.

Your challenges are important and the resilience they form within you will support you for a lifetime. Choose to see difficulties as opportunities and find communities of people, individuals or small groups, whom you align and can confide with. Find ways to support them. Start by helping them and watch how you evolve past your situation. Every struggle is an opportunity, but there’s no need to tackle life alone.

 

 

Marvin Mathew supports innovation/entrepreneurship full time as the founder of MIG, supporting early stage entrepreneurs by building their products, marketing, and sales. Eager to support solutions at scale, he’s coauthored Innovation, Technology, and Youth, a United Nations publication released during UN General Assembly 2016 looking at how the UN, Industry, and Government can support Youth Entrepreneurs as they solve the challenges outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals. Find him at marvinmathew.com or @MarvinJMathew.

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

A Better America: Rejecting Bigotry and Reaffirming our Values

 Summary: We must come together to reject bigotry, reaffirm our core values as Americans, and protect the rights that we fought so hard to achieve.
by Shekar Narasimhan
Ed. note: This is a cross post from the White House Blog.
Newly naturalized citizens wave American flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony keynoted by the President at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Newly naturalized citizens wave American flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony keynoted by the President at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Earlier this week, during his final State of the Union address, President Obama reminded the nation that “when politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or when a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

This week’s address echoed the President’s words from a powerful naturalization ceremony last month. He reminded us of the country that we have been historically—and the country that we want to be.  Immigrants and refugees are part of the foundation of our Nation, and they “revitalize and renew America.”  Immigrants and refugees come to the United States with hopes that their children will have lives that are better than the ones they left behind.  These Americans have contributed to this country in every area of society—they start businesses, teach our children, and provide medical services. Their drive and aspirations fuel the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In today’s climate however, some immigrant and refugee communities, families, and children increasingly face discrimination, harassment, and attacks based on their race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or religion—to name a few. This is, unfortunately, not new.  In the aftermath of September 11, many Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian communities became the target of hate crimes, discrimination, harassment, and profiling. Places of worship were threatened and harassed, and congregants were attacked and in some situations, even killed.

A staggering number of students in middle schools, high schools, and universities have become the target of this senseless violence. In a 2014 report, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights indicated that more than a decade after the terrorist acts of September 11, students who are or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Southeast Asian still confront bullying and harassment. In more recent months, advocates report that hate violence against these communities is on the rise and attacks ranging from harassment to bullying to homicide have been reported by the media.

These acts are intolerable, they violate the civil rights and liberties upon which our nation was founded, and we must come together to reject this bigotry, reaffirm our core values as Americans, and protect the rights that we fought so hard to achieve.

Just as the U.S. Department of Education recently called upon our school districts, colleges, and universities to foster safe, respectful, and nondiscriminatory learning environments free from discrimination and harassment, we too must pledge to uphold compassion, tolerance, and acceptance in our communities and expect it of our society at large.

Last October, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), housed within the Department of Education, partnered with the Sikh Coalition and Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment to launch #ActToChange, a national public awareness campaign against bullying. Building upon the work of the interagency AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force, ActToChange.orgprovides translated resources in common AAPI languages and empowerment messages. The campaign further engaged youth and AAPI public personalities in a live discussion about diversity and acceptance, and advocating for yourself and your community.

Discussions like these need to happen all across this nation. From our institutions of learning, to our places of worship, to our everyday behavior in our daily lives, we must ensure all of our children, families, and communities can live safely without the fear of persecution and with the freedom to practice their faith. The American experience is the immigrant experience, the refugee experience, the Hindu experience, the Christian experience, the Muslim experience. The diversity of experiences is the history and greatness of our country.  As the President said at the National Archives last month, “We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all its forms – whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farmworker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper. We are Americans. Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do – especially when it’s hard. Especially when it’s not convenient. That’s when it counts. That’s when it matters – not when things are easy, but when things are hard.”

More Resources:

  • StopBullying.gov: This website provides resources, tools, and guidance to prevent bullying and harassment.

Filing a Complaint

Shekar Narasimhan is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Commission and the White House Initiative on AAPIs are housed in the U.S. Department of Education. This blog post was originally published on the White House Blog