Surinder Singh left India in the mid-1960s to pursue a career in education. He raised his family in Canada and the U.S., but as practicing Sikhs, they faced a number of challenges.
At StoryCorps in San Francisco, he sat down to speak with his eldest son, Rupinder Singh.
Click here for the transcript.
Rupinder Singh (RS): One of the memories I always have is being bullied when I was in kindergarten. It was recess, and I do remember being called some names. And I left school and just walked home. I must have been five years old. I walked in the door and surprised mom.
It just became part of growing up for me that this was going to happen wherever I went to school.
The worst of it was really the 8th grade, 9th grade, just because it turned into something a little bit more physical where people were grabbing at my turban or pulling on it, um, as I walked the halls. So I used to rush from class to class and uh, hope I'd get through without being touched.
I had a hard time opening myself up to other people because I didn’t know who would be my friend one day and change their mind the next day. And um, it was very hard for me to give my trust to people.
SS: Since we are different, even at this age, I still get bullied sometimes.
RS: When you take walks every afternoon, it's always a thought of mine, like, you know, if someone's going to say something in a passing car—you never know about any kind of lunatic or if somebody is going to do something.
SS: Yeah, it does happen. But you have to maintain your strength, and you have to try to learn not to give up.
Once when I was desperately needing a job, they had hired me, but after two, three days, I was told that, “Mr. Singh you have to remove your turban … you have to look like us."
I said, "Mr … I won't do it." And I gave up the job right away. He was very surprised, but I was not willing to give in.
RS: Yeah and I think I've kind of inherited that myself. Removing my turban, cutting my hair was never even a consideration for me. I never thought of that as an option.
Looking back, given all the experiences you've had, do you think that it's possible to live as a Sikh in this country.
SS: Oh yeah. Most of the people that you deal with are really very good. There are a few black sheep, and sometimes they spoil the flock, but uh, on the whole, I do believe that there is more good than evil around.