As a young Sikh American woman, one of my proudest moments was probably last week’s second annual Langar on the Hill, a Congressional and community gathering bringing the Sikh tradition of langar to Capitol Hill. I co-hosted the event with my fellow SikhLEAD class of 2015, alongside Congressman Mike Honda’s office.
Sikhs migrated to the United States approximately 125 years ago and since then, they have made major contributions to America, serving as professionals, laborers, civil servants, and the list goes on. However, many people still do not know who Sikh Americans are. According to Turban Myths, a study conducted by Stanford University’s Peace and Innovation Lab and SALDEF, 70 percent of the American public cannot properly identify a picture of one of their Sikh neighbors.
This constant feeling of being unknown and not seen continuously rears its ugly head in the course of my own story. I remember my childhood and all the times I wanted the people who would stare at me and my family as we walked into the grocery store with eyes of contempt to see that my family was just like any other. I was taught through my Sikh scriptures, however, to remain true to the Sikh value of chardi kala, eternal optimism, and to continue to work honestly, selflessly serve others, and value equality and social justice for all.
As this year’s Langar on the Hill came to a start, I saw my wishes become my reality. Over 350 people attended the event and 18 Congressional representatives came to give their remarks.
Everyone was celebrating a 500-year old Sikh tradition together, sitting side-by-side on the floor and getting to know their neighbors, regardless of religion, gender or background and enjoying a traditional Sikh meal.
Near the beginning of the event, I was tying a “Langar on the Hill” headscarf on a woman. She asked me, “What is the significance of covering your hair?” I told her about how the act in itself represents a respect for the virtues of honesty and a reminder of the importance of integrity. This is the type of question I wished I had the opportunity to answer more often. As I spoke to her, I felt the barriers between us caused by a lack of mutual understanding of personal identities destruct.
When Langar on the Hill was coming to a close, attendees enthusiastically came to thank me for helping plan the event. They said the langar was the best meal that they had eaten at a Capitol Hill event, and that they had learned a lot about the Sikh religion and its values of equality. People were learning about my Sikh identity, and an important part of who I am was being seen. This made me proud. It made me proud to be a Sikh American.
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Jaspreet Kaur of Cypress, California, is studying business administration and political science at the University of California, Berkeley. This summer, as part of SALDEF’s SikhLEAD Internship program, she interned at the United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), a governmental agency that enforces employment discrimination laws.