Growing up, my dad would repeat his house rule almost every week: When you get married, marry a Sikh. Through my mids, my parents were still holding out hope that I would end up with a Sikh man.
Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, originating in Punjab, India. Its central values include the devotion to one God, service, equality, fighting for justice and truthful living. My parents are strict followers of the religion and made sure my siblings and I grew up going to Sikh camps over the summer, learning the Punjabi language and attending our version of Sunday school to learn hymns and history lessons.
Honestly, I often struggled when I went on dates with Sikh men. In other cases, conversations about relational and marital expectations laid bare an underlying double standard of how it was only OK for men to grow up in this country and become liberal, opinionated, career-driven people. After years of heartbreak and a series of terrible dating experiences, I just wanted to meet a kind, respectful generous man.
Marriage is the ultimate success for Indian daughters, and my parents had been worried about me for years. So, at 27, I decided to tell them I had met someone. It was supposed to be positive news. I was happy. They were worried for my future, and they pretty much banked on it being something that would pass. Months later, my dad continued to hint at potential Sikh suitors he knew about in the community. This was new for Sam, too.
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He also had never been with someone of a different race or culture. Someone whose religion is the thread that ties together their values, world views and beliefs. Someone whose culture emphasized family involvement even on personal matters. And while his family only cared that he was happy, Sam waited patiently and respectfully for mine to get on board. We had only been dating for three months when Donald Trump got elected inand it was the moment I knew Sam and I would either be able to see this through or would have to break up. We had to talk about the elephant in the room: his privilege as a white man.
Sam listened intently as I talked through my fears for the turban-wearing men in my family who live in the South, and my own identity crisis. He also owned his place in these ongoing issues, learning to be an ally who knows when to stand by and listen and when to stand up and speak out. These differences are a part of what makes my relationship with Sam beautiful, though. All relationships require work and effort, patience and respect and healthy communication.
In fact, much of what made me fall for Sam were his values that are foundational in the Sikh religion and of great importance to my family: his generosity to the less fortunate, his respect and desire for community building, his kindness, his nonjudgmental nature and ability to treat everyone as equals.
I know that by choosing each other, Sam Sikh men marrying white women I may have chosen a tougher path to go down, but we have also been able to grow together and so have our families.
Sam and his loving, open-minded and open-hearted family have been able to break the stereotypes my family unfortunately had of white Americans. In Maysix months after I told my parents about Sam, I asked them to meet him.
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And thankfully, they did. But after Sam proposed in Marcheverything seemed to get more complicated. Nothing prepared us for how tough wedding planning was going to be over the last year. Eventually, we were able to create a wedding weekend that upheld the important Sikh wedding traditions with added twists to make it intercultural i.
However, leading up to it, I had massive anxiety wondering if my Sikh community was going to potentially judge my in-laws or not accept them.
The truth is, I underestimated everyone. And my in-laws were enthusiastic, flexible and willing to learn, embracing my culture and tradition with open minds and hearts. During my Sikh wedding, my dad read the laavan from the scripture from the Guru Granth Sahib our holy bookwhich meant he sat in front of us through the entire traditional ceremony. After the fourth laavor walk around the Guru Granth Sahib, Sam and I were officially husband and wife.
I looked up and locked eyes with my dad, and immediately started bawling. It was in that moment that I got so overwhelmed by his love for me, a love so much stronger than his own religious beliefs or expectations or needs.
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I know my parents initially wanted me to marry a Sikh, but I also know they truly love and consider Sam like a son. Their acceptance of my partnership and effort to meet me where I am has relieved some of my guilt. I know that this is a journey we will venture on together, but I also know that there will always be personal challenges I have to face alone.
I am constantly re-evaluating my identities and relearning what they mean for me. Sam knows how important it is for me to stay connected to my roots. Instead, he looks up gurdwaras, or Sikh templesin places near where we are going to live.
He takes Bhangra dance lessons. He throws in Punjabi words with my nephews where he can. He educates himself. I am not betraying my family or culture by committing to a partnership that nurtures who I am, supports my experiences and urges my exploration in and out of it.
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