Embracing the Sikh Community

This week, I have had the intense honor of attending the 2019 NEH Wing Luke Teacher’s Institute titled, “From Immigrants to Citizens: Asian Pacific Americans in the Northwest”. It is a week-long program where we learn about the intense history of the Asian Pacific Islander communities in the US. I applied for this Institute to reclaim the stolen history that was never taught to me, embrace my own API heritage, and pass on this knowledge to my future students.

Today, we visited the Khalsa Gurmat Center to embrace the Sikh community and learn about their history in the Pacific Northwest. Before today, I did not have any formal teaching about the Sikh community. My colleagues and I had an insightful lecture by Dr. Jasmit Singh. He taught us about the history, struggles, accomplishments, and experiences of the Sikh community. It is absolutely infuriating and shameful how much racism and discrimination the Sikh community, like other communities of color, have faced within the US. However, they are resilient! I learned so much about their rich religion and culture that values standing up against injustice and community. Many Sikh-Americans have made a very interconnected community here in the PNW.

There was a period where Dr. Singh allowed the group to ask any question we had about the Sikh community. The purpose was to ensure that we were attacking the prejudices of the Sikh community that we are often fed through media and racism. Many of my fellow attendees asked about the dastaar, the Sikh Turban. Dr. Singh discussed how the dastaar is such a crucial part of their religion; he stated, “It is a mandatory part of our dress, not just a cultural symbol”.

As I sat in the room with 35 other educators, it was amazing to see how the misrepresentation of the Sikh community, especially the dastaar, was starting to dissipate. It made me think about how information will not cure racism, but it will begin to dismantle the prejudices to which people cling.

A Lion's Mane, Navjot KaurInspired by Dr. Singh and the Khalsa Gurmat Center, I wanted to re-showcase an excellent diverse picture book that can help start these conversations about the Sikh community and the dastaar in your own classrooms and homes. Written by Navjot Kaur and illustrated by Jaspreet Sandhu, A Lion’s Mane is a beautiful picture book. A Lion’s Mane details the journey of a young child as he embraces his dastaar using the metaphor of a Lion’s Mane. The main character also connects the lion metaphor to other cultures and historical figures around the world. It is between an Exploration and Conversation book on The Spectrum for Multicultural Literature depending on how it is used.

I have always enjoyed this book because of the intense metaphor and the theme of cultural empowerment. However, after hearing Dr. Singh’s presentation, I love this book even more because he made me realize the importance of the lion’s mane metaphor. He taught us that, in the Sikh religion, men take the last name Singh, which translates to “Lion”. So, not only is Kaur’s main character relating his dastaar to a powerful creature, but he truly is coming into his religion and embracing his namesake!

I would suggest using this book in your classroom and home to teach into the dastaar and normalize this important and beautiful religious item. Saffron Press says on their publisher website that there is a curriculum guide available for teachers. In addition, you can also use A Lion’s Mane as a read aloud. It would be great for teaching how to identify and write metaphors. Either way, by using this book, you are increasing your representation of children of color. When we embrace others’ cultures and religions, we begin to build acceptance and cross cultural empathy!

Check out A Lion’s Mane written by Navjot Kaur and illustrated by Jaspreet Sandhu on Saffron Press’s website! This book is perfect for dispelling prejudices while also empowering our Sikh students. We need to start these conversations now! Our students should not have to wait decades to learn about different communities of color like my colleagues and I had to.

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