It was July 4, 1986.
PanAm’s Boeing 747 landed in New York City, connecting me to a flight the same evening to a very rainy Des Moines, Iowa.
Thus, my American journey started with a glimpse of Lady Liberty and took me to the warm heartland, where I discovered both freedom and Sikhi.
They remain synonymous for me to this day.
I may have missed the fireworks and barbecue that day, but there has been no shortage of either since.
Were you expecting a Brue Springsteen twist?
Well, I was re-born in the USA.
Chuck D, John Coltrane, Angelo Mayo, Malcolm X and Spike Lee played a formative role in my “upbringing.” Bhais (brothers Vir, Puran, Randhir, Sahib, Jarnail) did “nurturing” of a different kind. Bibis (sisters Harnam, Balbir, Livlin, Milap, Parkash) of the previous century had a hand in “shaping” me.
Being American came to mean safeguarding the rights of individuals guaranteed by the Divine. This resonates doubly as that is also what I have discovered being a Sikh is: to lovingly establish a just society.
Guru Nanak’s mission was “to establish dominion by raising the fortress of truth on firm foundations.”
The United States was carved out of a similar common purpose but via bloody revolution.
Yes, being American can, at times, be trying. Such as when you witness how the drone wars have killed more innocent civilians, unethically and criminally, than enemy combatants. And American exceptionalism is not being properly contextualized in the case of whistle blowers like Snowden while our ‘No Such Agency’ goes beyond even the wildest fantasy of Orwell’s 1984.
The American narrative is becoming more imperialistic, without heeding the concerns and thoughtful calls of good, solid American folks like Noam Chomsky.
Being Sikh can also prove trying. Especially when you witness how the internecine ‘caste’ wars have targeted more Sikhs than the Indian genocidal campaigns in the last three decades of government-sponsored terror.
Courage is not being contextualized around peaceful warriors like Jaswant Singh Khalra. The narrative today is being hijacked by the Indian political system rather than Guru’s wisdom – that is, of the Guru Granth-Panth.
Yet, the American project is still the project of my choice though it was circumstances and my parents who were the initiators 27 years ago. The Sikh faith continues to be my bulwark of commitment though it was but a gift of birth, and I accepted it in grace 25 years ago.
America is struggling to remain the land of the free and home of the brave.
Meanwhile, Sikhs too face the challenge to establish an egalitarian society and the mission to ‘capture power for a plebian mission.’
I embraced America for I was not being hunted in this country for being of the Sikh faith. I continue to embrace America, amidst its political and social idiosyncrasies. It remains the optimal project on this planet.
I embraced Sikhi for it freed me from many internal doubts and shackles. I continue to become more and more a Sikh of the Guru, despite the cacophony of the asinine debates that continue around me amongst the claimants to the same faith.
It remains the most accepting faith on this planet.
From Iowa to Kansas to Texas to New Jersey – my residential address keeps changing, but work and play have taken me to 41 states to widen my lens amidst Sikhs and other Americans. If it wasn’t for my American passport, journeys in Punjab — partitioned unnaturally between India and Pakistan, and then again, within a ‘free‘ India! — would have been much more difficult.
I was fortunate to be able to visit Jamraud Fort — north of Peshawar. I still long to visit the Takht in Patna marking the advent of the Tenth Sovereign. The Sikh spirit has captured me in the last three decades: its intellectual dimension firmed up in Kansas City and its emotional dimension breaking through at Anandpur Sahib.
My non-physical journey has been a different story.
Integrating “American” and “Sikh” values remains work in progress, though ‘assimilation’ in the popular sense also remains out of the question!
Harinder Singh @1Force is co-founder of The Sikh Research Institute and the Panjab Digital Library.