A Tale of A Turban

I recently have taken a part in a movement called 1000 Speak For Compassion. It involves flooding the blogging community with stories of compassion. I think it’s important that we continue to see how compassion helps us rise past the struggles and keeps us moving in a positive direction.

This month’s theme is writing about Building From Bullying. I was lucky enough to not have to ever really deal with bullying but I have heard stories about what my husband went through as a child. I wanted to share one.

My husband moved to the US from Punjab in 1994. As a Sikh boy, he wore a turban. Now, we hear of stories today where children (and adults) who wear turbans are being bullied and harassed. And that’s today when we have so much access to information and knowledge to know that wearing a turban is just a part of their religion and culture. We know that wearing a turban shouldn’t have a negative connotation to it. And yet, as we see through social media and the news, it often still does.

So, in 1994, when we did not have this much access to information, of course, my husband was bullied for wearing a turban. He was the only Sikh male out of the 3 Indian people attending his school. The only reference that people had to Indian people was Apu from The Simpsons.

He would have to deal with name-calling with names such as “Towel Head” and “Diaper Head”. He would be asked if he rubbed his head, would a genie come out of it (he thought this point was pretty cool but was disappointed when it didn’t work)?

Kids would follow him around and talk to him in the “Apu” accent. They would tell him to go back where he came from. There was one kid in his Physical Education class that would sit behind him and constantly try to take off his turban from the bottom. This kid would steal his clothes from his gym locker and block him from going somewhere.

The teacher would notice and apologize but it didn’t always stop the harassment.

And it’s not that my husband wouldn’t want to defend himself. He thought about punching the kid that was bothering him. In the end, it wasn’t worth it to him because he reminded himself that his end goal was getting an education. His parents had worked really hard to move to America from India for him to get a good education and have success in life. Getting into a fight would only be a distraction.

It got so bad that when lunch periods happened, he decided he would rather go stand in a quiet, empty area of the school for 30 minutes rather than be in the cafeteria with the other kids. It turned out that this empty quiet area existed because there was a computer lab in that hallway. And even though my husband wasn’t a part of that particular class, the teacher let him come in during his lunch period and play around on the computers.

My husband used the opportunities and developed his interest in computers. Today, he is a software engineer with his own successful business.

He didn’t let the bullying become bigger than he was. He was also lucky that the bullying wasn’t to the point of¬†being seriously¬†physically and emotionally abused.

Eventually, the bullying did stop. Once the children realized that he was smart and they needed his help, they stopped being disrespectful based on his looks. Even the kid that would bother him in his physical education class came to him for help with a computer project.

The compassion that the computer teacher showed him by letting him just be a part of the computer lab helped drive him on his path to success. During those 30 minutes each day, he found something that he really loved to do. It kept his focus on the good and kept him moving towards his ultimate goal.

We can only hope that others who face bullies today know how to focus inward and find something that gives them confidence. We hope that they have the courage to move past it and have the support to thrive beyond the bullies. We hope that there is someone to show them compassion when they need it.

Just Because I’m American Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Indian

You would think the typical problem for someone first generation born in America would be racism against the fact that you are Indian even though you’re as American as the next person. I do know that this is the case for a lot of people throughout the country. It’s a sad fact and hopefully, we are getting to a point where people are enlightened enough that this isn’t an issue anymore.

My problem is a little different from the typical racism. I want to talk about the stereotypes I dealt with growing up. From other Indian people.

There was an Indian movie that came out in the 90s called Pardes. It basically told a story about a girl from India who was marrying a boy who grew up in the US. This boy was a horrible human being. He drank, he smoked, he had girlfriends prior to marriage. All of this was a direct result from the fact that he had grown up in America.

Seriously??

I’m not going to comment on the fact about whether all of these things are right or wrong. Instead I’m going to focus on the fact that all the “bad” stuff happened because a person wasn’t raised in India. And if you think this is just something that was portrayed in a movie, let me tell you that it actually happens.

When I was 19, I brought a guy around to our family parties. This was someone my parents had met and liked and they were fine with him coming with us. All of a sudden, as of that day, I was a bad influence on the other children within our group. Because I had a boyfriend. And this was the type of guy who the same people would have been trying to set me up with maybe 2-3 years down the line. Same nationality, same religion, good family, etc. I couldn’t understand it. I was a super nerd in school. I didn’t drink, I didn’t really have many boyfriends, I had been teaching dance to their children, I had good grades, and was attending college on a scholarship. Yet, all of that history wasn’t enough. I was now this American girl who was going to take everyone else’s children down the wrong path. I was lucky that my parents stood by me and stood up for me. Now, as I watch all of these people’s children get married to people that are not the same heritage as we are, I wonder if they realize how unfairly they judged me back then.

There was a friend I had whose mom did not like me because she felt threatened or something by the relationship I had with “her little boy”. We were just friends but for whatever reason, I wasn’t a good person. One day, she saw me wearing a sari. She asked me who tied the sari for me (it takes a lot of practice). I told her I did it myself and I’ve known how to do it for the last 7 years. My friend later told me that his own sister-in-law from India can’t tie her own sari. Why did this woman assume that I was so American just because I was born here that I didn’t know anything about my own culture?

Most of the people I have been friends with here can speak more languages than just English. Most of them can understand at least 3 languages. I have friends who have been born and raised here in America and friends who have been born in India and came over after spending their childhood there. My own husband came to this country at the age of 11. Yet, there’s not really a significant difference between us. We are both proud of our culture and we share it. We also adopt parts of the American culture that are more progressive and really have been creating a new culture in which future generations will be a part of.

So, Indian people who think that they are better than I am just because I was born here and not there, get over it. We are all the same. The sooner you start thinking that way, the more we will all get along.