- Topics & Settings
Angela is the mother of two teenage sons. The daughter of two Indian immigrants to the UK, she grew up in London but spent summers in India with her cousins. She grew up in England, her Dad cut his hair as soon as he moved to England because he thought he would struggle to find employment if he didn't. Taking into account their cultural context, Angela's parents decided to cut her brother's hair, something that upset him deeply on their visits to India. Though Angela's brother stopped cutting his hair at age eleven, he has always resented that his hair is not truly uncut in the Sikh way. Angela herself said, "I cut my hair when I was ten, because my cousins told me to…so I don't have it, and I think it's more of what's in the heart, obviously if you have the whole hair it's great, but I think it's more about being a good individual and being a good human being, and I think if you focus on that…just being a kind, good individual, and I think that's what all faiths focus on and give you that code of ethics that you need to follow to be respected and to respect others in society."
Though Angela and her husband (who made the decision in his 20s to keep his hair short) do not see the kesh as an indispensible necessity of Sikhism, they decided not to cut their sons hair. With Angela's brother in mind, she wanted to ensure that her sons would have the option of having the uncut hair prescribed by their faith when they were old enough to decide for themselves. Angela and her husband always told their sons that they could go to the barber at any time, but, "Both of them have chosen to keep their hair, which is amazing and it's a great reflection of the community that they felt confident and supported in their community that they haven't felt the need to have to conform, that they're accepted for who and how they are. We've been really lucky that way. "
Angela and her family live in Excelsior, MN, in the Minnetonka school district. Though many Sikhs experience bullying and prejudice, Angela's sons have had positive experiences in the community and in the schools. "The kids don't really see [my son] as being different, they see him as being one of them. Which I think is really amazing, because it is a pretty mono-cultural society that we live in over here, we live in a very ethnically un-diverse community, so I think our kids may be some of the token minorities in our district." Angela appreciates the intentional efforts of the school administration to make sure that her sons "feel as much a part of the community as all the other kids," but she also acknowledges that she and her husband have spent a lot of time at the school talking to this kids and educating by doing things like "opening the kids' hair."
"The fact that I'm second generation Indian…it makes me understand a little better, because I went through all the bullying and teasing and I realize that my parents probably didn't have the confidence to go into schools and talk to them, because they themselves were trying to find their place in the community."
Angela was raised in UK and the US, but her husband was raised in India. She spoke easily about cultural integration, saying, "We are able to make the mosaic of both of our cultures, where we are able to assimilate and yet maintain our own heritage too, and talk about why we do things and how we do things that are similar and how we do things that are different, and I think…that transparency helps everybody understand each other better."
Angela lives about an hour from the Gurdwara, but she tries to come down at least once a week. She is careful to give her sons the freedom to explore their faith, "I tell my kids its my faith, and they are welcome, too…I tell them I do believe there's a higher power, and I don't believe there's just one way to it, and I tell them that this is me personally, but a religion that makes men and women equal, that accepts everybody no matter from what walk of life, what faith, I just keep telling them…it's a faith that I feel is very progressive, so I just let them know that that's one of the reasons why I am passionate about it, that it treats everyone equally." At this point in their lives, her sons frequently come with her to the Gurdwara, which is, "[the place] where we discovered our Sikh community when we moved here about 15 years ago."
For Angela, the most special part of going to the Gurdwara "…is the service, the prayers, hearing the scriptures and getting together with people who are focused on hearing the scriptures. I think in our faith there's a lot of focus on Sangat …it means gatherings around hearing the scriptures. …Unlike some faiths where there's a certain day that is allocated towards prayer and it's important to go to a church or a temple or a mosque to do those prayers, with Sikhism a lot of us actually have our own Gurdwara in our house…At our house we have our own, I call it my peace room…. It's a room with no furniture at all, we just have the Guru Ganth Sahib and that's it, just a plain room, and that's our Peace Room. My husband and I will got twice a day, and the kids usually go at least in the morning before school just to remind them that God is there…so we have the Guru Granth Sahib at our house and we do the rituals around…the dawning in the morning and at night. We treat it like a human being, so we'll wake it up every the morning with singing the holy prayers and then open up the holy scriptures, and at night we will put it to sleep and just close the book and, again, do the evening prayers around it. So for me to hear the word or to read the holy book, we do that in our house on a daily basis, but just the importance of the congregation is really important in our faith and that's the reason we go there. And also, it is our social community, too, so it gives us a chance to catch up and see what's going on in our community…whose kids are getting married, all that little stuff too, who is not feeling well, who might need some help, all of those things. It is a gathering place where we get to check in and be there for each other, too, so that's the social aspect… Sharing in the Langar is also an important part of our faith too, people of all walks of life sitting down together and sharing a basic meal…mainly though, it is the Sangat. Hearing the scriptures in an environment where everyone is just focused on hearing the scripture, I think that's a big part of it for me."
The messages of inclusion and equality in Sikhism connect deeply with Angela, who values diversity and dialogue. "I believe all faiths preach peace and equality. We're a little different, I don't know, but I would like to say I am a Sikh. I do believe in all people being equal and all faiths being equal and I feel that the more we learn about other faiths, the more we appreciate everybody."