My name is Rupinder Mohan Singh.
On a bright and sunny Wednesday morning, I was sitting inside a packed theater with another 900-plus people and a few hundred in the gallery above us. Those of us below were collectively swearing in as US citizens.
To this point, I was a legal United States resident for about 17 years. It took me some time, but I finally decided to obtain my US citizenship. I’m also a follower of Sikhism, a religion that was founded in present-day Pakistan but is now centered in India. Over 500 years old, it is one of the world’s largest religions, and one that requires males to wear a turban. It’s often said that 99% of the people in the United States who wear turbans are Sikhs, and even though Sikhs have been in America for over a century, most Americans know little about us. Because of our unique appearance, we tend to be subject to disproportionate rates of discrimination and bigotry in the United States.
I found myself inspired by the experience of the citizenship ceremony. Since then, I’ve been telling friends and associates that even if they were already citizens, they should sit in on a ceremony and take in the enthusiasm and emotions expressed by those who were pledging allegiance to their new home. There were a multitude of faces around me, assuredly with all kinds of stories about the paths that brought them to this place – the same place as me – to redefine their identities as Americans, and to accept all the responsibilities and rights therein. I, for one, am looking forward to sitting on a jury for the first time.
One of the speakers during the event was a man who received his citizenship a month prior. He spoke of contributions that new Americans can make to this country and suggested that every new citizen should find ways to have a positive impact. He urged all of us to vote, serve on a jury, and to pursue our passions to the benefit of our communities.
It was also around this time that Sikhism was appearing in the news quite a bit. There was a lot of discussion about US President Obama’s potential stop at Amritsar’s Darbar Sahib (aka “the Golden Temple”, the heart of Sikhism) during his November, 2010 visit to India, and Sikhs were appearing in the news with a little more frequency in their defense of practicing their faith in America, particularly around the right to wear their turban in this society.
On a personal level, I love to write (granted, my skill is probably rather limited), and as a turban-wearing Sikh, I have a stake in issues that we face in America in pursuit (and balance) of the American and Sikh dream. When I reflect back on the comments that speaker made during my citizenship ceremony, all of these things combined to inspire me to create this blog.
My purpose for this blog is two-fold:
- For non-Sikh Americans, this blog will promote who we are as a people and the issues that we face.
- For this and the next generation of Sikh Americans, to discuss and highlight my firm belief that it is indeed possible to live and thrive as turban-wearing Sikh in this country.
Over the course of writing in this blog, I’ve realized that I must acknowledge that I am susceptible to some bias. I am a Sikh male of Indian descent who maintains a turban and a beard. Not all Sikhs are of these characteristics, and despite that I hold those other than me in equal esteem, I know I am under-representing the voices of Sikh women, those who are not of Indian descent, or those who don’t maintain uncut hair or a turban.
Indeed, as much as I wish to acknowledge the important voice of Sikh women, I know that just by virtue of my own gender experience that I am lacking very much in representing that voice. Accordingly, I concede that this blog is currently not an all-encompassing discussion of the Sikh American experience, but at a minimum, I hope to at least acknowledge its various aspects and in doing so, learn about those experiences myself and how those stories intersect with my own.
As such, this blog represents my own learning process as it might for those who generously follow my writing. In this way, I hope that American Turban will be my positive contribution to the Sikh American experience.