Bridge Between Cultures — Simran Kaur Sandhu

Growing up as a first-generation American is challenging at times: We’re the bridge between cultures, the children of the immigrants that have served as the backbone for this nation they call home. 

I was brought up in a Punjabi Sikh family and my parents were strict but nurturing. They put me and my siblings through school with many extracurricular activities and kept us busy with academic summer camps and jobs. They prioritized our education, character and work ethic, as these were the biggest reasons for their success in their lives before and after they immigrated to America. “Without a good education and personality (excellent academic profile) and having a good job (doctor, engineer, lawyer), leading a comfortable life would be hard,” they would say. Speaking to us in Punjabi, my parents taught us our heritage, and took us to Gurdwara (Sikh temple) to foster our bond with our faith and the foundation of our lifestyle, Sikhi. In addition to raising us like they were raised, my parents brought us up as American as they could. What they couldn’t prevent, though, was the clash of cultures that we were inevitably going to face and continue to face.

On the one hand, we want to be like everyone else (many who are white and “American”) and we seek acceptance from a group that doesn’t value our “foreign” heritage. We whitewash our names, take up “American” names to accommodate. In an effort to feel accepted by American society and becoming complacent with the pronunciation of our names, we become foreigners to our heritage. The tradeoff between accepting and compromising our identities leaves us feeling like we have to be validated by others. We feel incomplete because at home we’re American, and out in the world we’re from whatever country our skin suggests. Like a bridge, we’re stuck between two banks, two cliffs, two worlds with what seems like an insurmountable divide; but nevertheless, we persist. 

This summer, I spent my time indoors because of Coronavirus. During this time, I’ve been trying to practice better mental health habits because I was able to realize the acceptance I had sought for so long was something I first had to give myself. Things like validation or forgiveness were easy to provide others, but giving these to myself was something I rarely did. I was so consumed by being a bridge for others that I wasn’t even thinking about maintaining the bridge with myself.  

I applied for this fellowship with the CRGC because I believe that it will offer me space where I can rebuild the bridge with myself by embarking with others on this part of my journey with Sikh Philosophy. In the past, I’ve experienced the most learning about myself with the company of others, especially with those who show a genuine interest to unapologetically share their thoughts and beliefs. I hope that with this fellowship, I grow personally and get to share that experience with my peers.

How has your upbringing influenced your relationship with yourself and your identity? How do you hope to grow with your philosophy and spirituality?

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