A few days ago, I had the honor to join the Sikh Coalition for a first-ever policy briefing held by the White House for the Sikh community. During this briefing, we heard from representatives of several executive agencies – Dept of Ed, EEOC, and the TSA – as they spoke about issues pertaining specifically to us. We were also given the opportunity to ask questions and offer recommendations to the officials. Unlike some of my Sikh Coalition colleagues, this was my first time at the White House, and I was as excited as a kid on a field trip. I was equally thrilled to be surrounded by Sikh activists and community leaders from around the country for this momentous day.
As the first words of the opening remarks were uttered, “Welcome to the White House…” my mind began to wander.
I thought to myself, how did we make it to this historic event?
I first thought about the Sikhs who migrated to the United States in the early 1900’s, working tirelessly in the lumber mills and railroads in Oregon. I then thought of my parents (who sat a few rows in front of me) and their generation, many of whom came to this country without a penny, but were armed with a strong education, a dream, and an incredible work ethic. How easy it would have been for them to leave their articles of faith back then when Sikhs were few and far apart.
I then thought of the small business owners, cab drivers, and gas station owners – those who serve on the “front-line” – representing Sikhi not only by their uniform, but through their courtesy and professionalism. I thought about all the people who have faced harassment and discrimination and challenged it through the legal system rather than simply give up. Then I thought about the Khalsa School teachers, camp directors and counselors, for all their work in keeping our youth connected to our heritage and filling them with the spirit to deal with all the daily challenges they face. I thought about all the children who have stood up to their bullies and made it clear the Sikh uniform is not to be disrespected.
Then I thought of my own generation, those who’ve benefited from our parent’s hard work, excelled in our education, engaged with our local communities and built institutions to preserve our rights and our way of life. I thought about all the parents, like us, who educate our communities through our children‘s schools, leading presentations about Sikhi, so that our kids will have the confidence to excel far beyond our imagination.
How did we make it here?
It took all of us.
And it was the Guru’s grace that held our hand along the way.
Ruminating on these thoughts while walking through the East Wing of the White House, I began to recite the mool mantar under my breath with hopes that it will not be the last time these walls hear the Guru’s words. Perhaps, years from now, a Sikh will be walking down this same corridor reciting the same mool mantar surrounded by secret service and staff on their way to meet heads of state or to make a speech to inspire the nation.
A Sikh president…can you imagine?
A leader of the free world, grounded in the ideals of Guru Nanak’s philosophy – equality, courage, justice, compassion…how beautiful.
This day at the White House made me realize that it will happen…maybe in my lifetime, maybe not.
But when it does, the story of the Sikhs in America, from its humble beginnings on the railroads of Oregon, will have reached a pinnacle.
And if I am so lucky to ever come face to face with the first Sikh President…I would be so overwhelmed.
I would proudly greet them with Guru’s Fateh, thank them for their service…
and wish her the best of luck.