Looking Beyond.

Guest Blogged by Mewa Singh

Fresno is home to one of the United States larger Sikh populations and the Fresno Bee is often the battleground for local Sikhs. Articles on Sikhs appear rather frequently so it is no surprise that this weekend had another (thanks Sundari).

The article details the life of a Gurdeep Sihota. Transparency in The Langar Hall calls for me to acknowledge that I have known Gurdeep for many years and she truly is a wonderful and remarkable woman. Most Sikh students at Fresno City College know Gurdeeps bright smile. The article states what many know: she goes out of her way for her students, even opening her home as a safe haven for those in need.

While some Langar-ites may focus on her personal life and decisions, I was hoping we could move this in another direction and spark a conversation on issues of the American media and even reflections within our Sikh community.

First off, I (and Gurdeep through a personal correspondence) have problems with the title. Gurdeep has found her spiritual peace choosing another path. Then why in the article still label her a Sikh? The story occurs often enough where a woman (or man) chooses to go against the status quo and create a life that is best for them. The individual is lauded for their bravery. However, should the rest of the community be demonized? In the article, Gurdeeps father encouraged her to pursue her degree, saying, Education is more important than anything. Things may not have turned out how her father may have planned, but his love for his daughter in the article is still apparent:

Her father said he’s proud of Sihota, but he wishes he saw her more often. “She comes once in a while, but mostly I call,” he said.

Still why through the title and through the general tone does the American media love to laud itself by pushing against others cultures and traditions? Are other cultures really like the Mafia?

My other question actually refers to the future in our community. While our parents generation may not be able to accept those that go against the status-quo (e.g. older unmarried men and women), is there still a place for these people within our community? Will our generation have less of a problem? At this point, unfortunately, I dont see positive signs in this direction. Will members of our community be shunned and be forced out if they dont fulfill what are considered norms? Does the stigma fall more on women than men? How large is the embrace of our arms?


bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark
tabs-top


13 Responses to “Looking Beyond.”

  1. Henna says:

    This was an interesting post – you raised a lot of points that I'm sure are on the minds of young people today.

  2. Henna says:

    This was an interesting post – you raised a lot of points that I’m sure are on the minds of young people today.

  3. Reema says:

    Mewa,

    I completely agree that the article's title is problematic (as well as the other pieces you mentioned). But I question the 2nd part of the title too –"breaks away from tradition." In some ways, it seems that the way she lives her life show influences of the tradition of Sikhi that she may have been influenced by in her youth. But I don't know her personally, and don't know where she finds her inspiration, or if she herself feels that she's completely 'broken from tradition.'

    The article chooses to focus on some aspects of tradition while ignoring others- the fact that she wasn't allowed to talk to boys in high school, but doesn't question where she gets her strength from. I think Punjabis are incredibly strong spirited and optimistic, and through her lifestyle, Gurdeep certainly exemplifies 'chardi kala.' But I don't know Gurdeep, and she may attribute her strength to something else that is completely unrelated.

    Why does the media push against other traditions and cultures? If I say xenophobia, is that too easy of an answer? Nothing else has come to my mind, yet.

    Regarding 'how large is the embrace of our arms' :) (nice way to put it), I definitely think there are regional differences in how our community behaves. For instance, in the Midwest (and possibly East coast), I know folks from our generation who have married a non-Punjabi Sikh person, but are still warmly embraced by their parents (after initial objections, because like Gurdeep's dad, they loved their children)and the larger community. These individuals still occasionally do kirtan, go to gurdwara, and some of their non-Punjab-Sikh significant others actually want their kids to keep their hair and learn Punjabi. Maybe this also speaks to the "Sikh turn" you've talked about before (in posts about Ishmeet). But I guess this is also different from (maybe not as taboo as) not marrying at all.

    I still think our generation is more likely to find Gurdeep's strength as inspirational (especially considering her willingness to help others) rather than a reason to shun her, maybe because we can better(or just differently) understand the pushes and pulls, the contradictions and dual lives that come from growing up in a diaspora community in the US than our parents' generation understand them.

  4. Reema says:

    Mewa,

    I completely agree that the article’s title is problematic (as well as the other pieces you mentioned). But I question the 2nd part of the title too –“breaks away from tradition.” In some ways, it seems that the way she lives her life show influences of the tradition of Sikhi that she may have been influenced by in her youth. But I don’t know her personally, and don’t know where she finds her inspiration, or if she herself feels that she’s completely ‘broken from tradition.’

    The article chooses to focus on some aspects of tradition while ignoring others- the fact that she wasn’t allowed to talk to boys in high school, but doesn’t question where she gets her strength from. I think Punjabis are incredibly strong spirited and optimistic, and through her lifestyle, Gurdeep certainly exemplifies ‘chardi kala.’ But I don’t know Gurdeep, and she may attribute her strength to something else that is completely unrelated.

    Why does the media push against other traditions and cultures? If I say xenophobia, is that too easy of an answer? Nothing else has come to my mind, yet.

    Regarding ‘how large is the embrace of our arms’ :) (nice way to put it), I definitely think there are regional differences in how our community behaves. For instance, in the Midwest (and possibly East coast), I know folks from our generation who have married a non-Punjabi Sikh person, but are still warmly embraced by their parents (after initial objections, because like Gurdeep’s dad, they loved their children)and the larger community. These individuals still occasionally do kirtan, go to gurdwara, and some of their non-Punjab-Sikh significant others actually want their kids to keep their hair and learn Punjabi. Maybe this also speaks to the “Sikh turn” you’ve talked about before (in posts about Ishmeet). But I guess this is also different from (maybe not as taboo as) not marrying at all.

    I still think our generation is more likely to find Gurdeep’s strength as inspirational (especially considering her willingness to help others) rather than a reason to shun her, maybe because we can better(or just differently) understand the pushes and pulls, the contradictions and dual lives that come from growing up in a diaspora community in the US than our parents’ generation understand them.

  5. Anandica says:

    Fresno, and smaller areas around the US, will always be somewhat ignorant to other cultures and religions. After seeing a segment on the local Fresno news a few months ago about the TSA policy controversy, I called the station up to educate them. The producer then asked me, and a friend, to come on air and educate their viewers. Although I felt being there probably did open some of the minds of Fresnans, it was a shame that the host of the TV show continued to call Sikhs "Sheiks".

    It will take alot from our generation to start building a sense of education for the American people and consequently the media. It's important to invite Non-Sikh individuals to events that we have, such as Gurpurb, Diwali, Lohri, etc. so they can learn and witness our culture.

    In reference to the article in the Fresno Bee, I was disappointed by the title too, and the negative tone in which Sikhi seemed to be portrayed. My parents have always encouraged education, and their purpose was so we were able to be independent and make good decisions. There is a generational gap between our parents generation and us, but I feel there is room for open-mindedness. If the parents do a good job of instilling 'values' in us, regardless of what path we take, we can still have their respect.

    Our community has a long way to go with acceptance, but I think one family at a time, a difference can be made.

  6. Anandica says:

    Fresno, and smaller areas around the US, will always be somewhat ignorant to other cultures and religions. After seeing a segment on the local Fresno news a few months ago about the TSA policy controversy, I called the station up to educate them. The producer then asked me, and a friend, to come on air and educate their viewers. Although I felt being there probably did open some of the minds of Fresnans, it was a shame that the host of the TV show continued to call Sikhs “Sheiks”.
    It will take alot from our generation to start building a sense of education for the American people and consequently the media. It’s important to invite Non-Sikh individuals to events that we have, such as Gurpurb, Diwali, Lohri, etc. so they can learn and witness our culture.
    In reference to the article in the Fresno Bee, I was disappointed by the title too, and the negative tone in which Sikhi seemed to be portrayed. My parents have always encouraged education, and their purpose was so we were able to be independent and make good decisions. There is a generational gap between our parents generation and us, but I feel there is room for open-mindedness. If the parents do a good job of instilling ‘values’ in us, regardless of what path we take, we can still have their respect.
    Our community has a long way to go with acceptance, but I think one family at a time, a difference can be made.

  7. Mewa Singh says:

    Just to add:

    A correction was made to yesterday's article:

    http://www.fresnobee.com/corrections/story/306797

    A headline on Monday's front page incorrectly implied that Gurdeep Sihota actively encourages others to follow in her footsteps by breaking with tradition. Sihota, who is Fresno City College's director of college activities, shares her story with others but does not steer them toward a specific personal path.

  8. Mewa Singh says:

    Just to add:
    A correction was made to yesterday’s article:

    http://www.fresnobee.com/corrections/story/306797.html

    A headline on Monday’s front page incorrectly implied that Gurdeep Sihota actively encourages others to follow in her footsteps by breaking with tradition. Sihota, who is Fresno City College’s director of college activities, shares her story with others but does not steer them toward a specific personal path.

  9. Suzy says:

    It's just a typical story from the Punjabi diaspora. Parents try to force a girl or boy to get married and they escape from that and lead an independent life. The coercion and blackmail and even violence that is used to force Sikhs born and raised in the West into marriage is an absolute moral blight upon the community, one that the Punjabi community has never truly confronted. In this respect it is like the mafia, with a culture of 'omerta' added to the izzat culture, and a lack of respect for individual choice for children born of Punjabi immigrants.

  10. Suzy says:

    It’s just a typical story from the Punjabi diaspora. Parents try to force a girl or boy to get married and they escape from that and lead an independent life. The coercion and blackmail and even violence that is used to force Sikhs born and raised in the West into marriage is an absolute moral blight upon the community, one that the Punjabi community has never truly confronted. In this respect it is like the mafia, with a culture of ‘omerta’ added to the izzat culture, and a lack of respect for individual choice for children born of Punjabi immigrants.

  11. sizzle says:

    It’s just a typical story from the Punjabi diaspora.

    That's funny. Especially if you had bothered to read any of above comments, such as Reema's. But then the rest of your post gets even more preposterous. Are you Punjabi? Are you Sikh? Are you a Punjabi Sikh? Have you ever associated with Punjabis or Sikhs? Are you a self hating Punjabi or Sikh? Or, as I suspect, are you just trying to start a flamewar?

    But if I'm wrong, and you speak because of some personal angst rooted in bad experiences (as your other post may indicate), perhaps you need to meet some new people, Punjabis that don't force marriages (most of them) and hug it out.

  12. sizzle says:

    Its just a typical story from the Punjabi diaspora.

    That’s funny. Especially if you had bothered to read any of above comments, such as Reema’s. But then the rest of your post gets even more preposterous. Are you Punjabi? Are you Sikh? Are you a Punjabi Sikh? Have you ever associated with Punjabis or Sikhs? Are you a self hating Punjabi or Sikh? Or, as I suspect, are you just trying to start a flamewar?

    But if I’m wrong, and you speak because of some personal angst rooted in bad experiences (as your other post may indicate), perhaps you need to meet some new people, Punjabis that don’t force marriages (most of them) and hug it out.

  13. […] Langar Hall. In fact in some ways, it has been discussed here in various manifestations many many many […]