Religion

02.14.14

My Sexy American Sikh Valentine

America still doesn’t know how to respond to Sikh men like my husband. But thanks to a growing number of positive depictions in advertising, they’re learning to appreciate them as much as I do.

It’s no surprise that I love the man that I’ve been married to for the last fourteen years. He is the kind of man that places my vitamins on the counter for me every day so that I don’t forget to take them in my frenzied mornings, and makes time (despite a busy schedule) to play, be silly, and laugh with me and our two small children. He shares in the daily responsibility of raising his kids, their activities, and the mundane stuff that every household is made of. He sounds very much like so many other American husbands, but there is a key distinction.

When the average American meets my husband, with his beard and turban, they immediately view him as foreign. He is self-aware enough to make them comfortable with his self-deprecating humor and unaccented English. He’ll readily answer questions when asked about his appearance or our faith. His passport is American, his favorite foods are pizza and hamburgers, and his favorite music is hip hop. He loves all football and basketball. He knows no other country but America. Yet, I watch him struggle to prove to people what is so obvious to me: he is American too.

A recent study by Stanford University and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that 70 percent of Americans can’t identify a man wearing a turban and a beard as a Sikh. While many groups across the United States work to build understanding in a diverse, post 9-11 America, Sikh men—fathers, brothers, and husbands—do continue to face hate crimes. Just this past fall, Columbia University professor Prabhjot Singh was attacked last fall after a walk with a friend in his neighborhood, Harlem, after dropping off his wife and baby after a dinner out in the city.

That’s why I couldn’t be happier to see recent media advertising depicting Sikh men as desirable, sexy, and most importantly American. America is first and foremost a land of immigrants, and throughout our history, we have seen resistance to new ethnic groups as they make a home here. Every ad that highlights an American ethnic community makes that community part of the mainstream and less subject to the invincible burden of proving their patriotic pride. While we’re celebrating love on Valentine ’s Day, let’s love Coca-Cola’s multilingual Super Bowl commercial that celebrates America’s diversity by highlighting people of every color singing “America the Beautiful”—including Muslim women wearing hijabs. Let’s love the picture of the Sikh couple kissing for the social media campaign behind Axe Peace’s “Hold On” Super Bowl spot, and Waris Ahluwalia in GAP’s “Make Love” ad.

While all of this advertising also made news for some hate-filled backlash, ads like these not only celebrate the individuality of various ethnic communities within America but serve as a constant reminder that Americans look different from one another, and are stronger when celebrating their diversity.

My heart gives a big thank you to those companies that have chosen to teach love of a multicultural America. Your choice to teach love keeps my Valentine safer from hate.