Growing Up in San Antonio, Texas, USAG.P. SINGH, San Antonio, Texas
In 1979, I became the first turbaned Sikh to reside in the beautiful city of San Antonio in the state of Texas, USA..
At 26 years of age, San Antonio felt like a great place to settle down -- I loved its diverse culture, its rich history of Missions and the spirituality they represented, the weather, and of course, the food.
I wondered, though, what it would be like to raise Sikh children in Texas. Our unique identity, visible because of turbans and beards, can cause challenges anywhere, but in San Antonio it would be supremely trying, since there was no family, no Sikh friends and no congregation.
More than 33 years later, my wife and I have a deep appreciation for the way in which the San Antonio community has helped us shape our lives and the lives of our four sons.
Each of our sons (Harpreet, Simran, Darsh and Raj) was born and raised in San Antonio, attended Northside Independent School District schools, and even received bachelor's degrees locally at UTSA and Trinity. Their unique Sikh identity, considered a gift from the faith's founders, encouraged my sons to hold themselves accountable to not only their faith, but also to their fellow human beings. It helped them become more compassionate and thoughtful citizens of our city, state and country.
Teachers, parents and coaches alike complimented their pursuit of excellence. As members of soccer teams, marching bands, academic clubs and community organizations, they were part of the everyday lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of fellow San Antonians.
But it wasn't always easy. While they never faced anything nearly as horrific as the recent tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, bullying was all too common, as it remains today. Name calling, such as being called “Osama” (although he was of a different religion and different ethnicity) and “Raghead” was also a common refrain, as it remains today.
And on several occasions, my sons had to face discrimination institutionally, not being allowed to participate in sports due to UIL, FIFA, and NCAA restrictions on headgear, such as turbans. Unfortunately, discrimination continues today.
The tragedy of the Oak Creek attack is not only that Sikhs were killed, but also that Americans were attacked for practicing an American ideal -- freedom of religion.
Sikh Gurus taught us to be absolute about equality and justice.
Sikh scripture starts with an alpha-numeric, where the first letter in the scriptural cannon is number 1 -- signifying we are all part of His Creation and thus equal. Sikhs over centuries have stood for justice for all and history is full of examples where Sikhs have shed blood for not only their own community but for people of numerous other faiths, including Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians.
San Antonio, with its rich cultural history, generally practices a core belief that being American means being diverse, sharing unique stories and expressing faith. Parents, teachers, coaches, administrators and even children, have stood up for my sons. And this is what we are seeing in a broader context today.
In times of tragedy, the great virtues of those around us are also on display. From the bravery of law enforcement in Wisconsin, such as Lt. Brian Murphy and fellow first responders, to the generosity of community members with actions as simple as stopping Sikhs on the street to offer sympathy and support, the essential goodness of people (the Divine) reveals itself.
I remain optimistic that the heartfelt reaction in San Antonio and around the country will move us toward becoming a better nation -- one that represents the Sikh and American ideals of freedom, justice, and equality.
August 16, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Baljit Singh (Canada), August 17, 2012, 7:31 AM.
Uncle ji, you have done an awesome job by raising your kids in Sikhi. Aunty ji has played a great role by being house mother and a real teacher to teach them Sikh values. I think we need to learn from you and your family. One thing really makes me think twice that having a culture of one parent staying home is quite important. Someone needs to be there for them when they come back from school, tired and especially if they are trying to fit in. Someone needs to be home, so that they can come and talk to about their problems. It is important that parents have Sikh values and they can teach their kids and you both have done an awesome job. I salute both of you and think that the real teachers of Sikhi are the parents at home.