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.
At 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.