Last weekend my husband and I went to the Gurdwara, we go nearly every weekend. This specific weekend we had dropped off our daughter Nasreen at our friend’s house for a day of fun with them and their daughter. For the first time in a long time, I was without my very Punjabi looking child at the Gurdwara. I always felt confident having my daughter with me, like my reason for being there made more sense. I am always the only gorri (white) in that Gurdwara.
After the service we went to the Langar Hall for lunch. Langar is a shared meal that is very important in Sikhism. We sat down together on the floor, like everyone else, with our food and started to eat. Two little girls were walking around giving cups of water to people. The girls must have been 4 and 6 years old. This is common for people to come around refreshing peoples waters and food, it is considered a community service. The girls came to us and stopped.
The elder girl said ” hey your not Indian, your English”. I really didnt know what to say. I had never really been called out like this before. I knew people looked but no one ever said anything. I said “yeah I’m not Indian”. I really wanted to clarify that I was not English, but American. I knew that this would complicate things further. They then pointed at my husband, an Indian, and said ” do you know him?”. We both laughed it was a bit awkward. I said ” yeah hes my husband”. Both girls looked completely shocked! ” But your English and hes Indian!” We both answered “yeah….and?”. What do you say to that? The girls then started to talk and gesture how my skin was a different color then his. They asked me if ” I spoke Indian”. I laughed at this because of the misuse of the term. I said ” Yeah I speak some Punjabi” and then repeated that same phrase in Punjabi. ” Mainu thordi thordi Punjabi Onde Haan” . The girls looked so shocked.
This was a unique chance to really hear what a child had to say about our inter-racial relationship, without the politically correct parents hushing them. Kids are honest, they say what they mean.
I wanted so badly to ask her questions. Did her parents say these things? Is it seen as unexceptionable for a Punjabi to be with a non-Punjabi? Were these her own independent observations? Was it simply the fact that we did not match? Was it the fact she had never seen a Gorri in a Gurdwara and definitely had never seen one married to a Punjabi man.
The girls were called by someone and they left. I did not get to ask my questions and the girls were gone. Later when I threw away the disposable plates I heard the little girl talking to an adult about me. She pointed at me saying ” Thats the English girl, see!!”
It was a very uncomfortable feeling being watched like that. I know that I stood out. I am very vigilant of my appearances. I make sure my chunni is always just right and I keep my daughter behaved. Other kids can run around the Gurdwara, but not my child. I dont want to be the Gorri with the rude child. I used to think that these feeling were all in my head. The conversation with that child made me realize that there was truth to my feelings. I did stand out and I was being judged. My presence was noted by those in the community.
I am unsettled by the girl’s comments. I know that she is just a child, and children say things without thinking. It just makes me wonder what are children being taught by their parents? Will my daughter be treated any different at the Punjabi school on Sundays because her mother is white. Will she face issues at the American school because her father is Punjabi?
These are the issues that most people dont think about when having a bi-racial child. To be honest I am more worried about the criticisms in the Punjabi culture then in the American culture. The United States, especially California is very mixed and diverse. People inter-marry constantly here. Punjbai culture is not! Most Punjabis we know have arranged marriages still. Our “love” mixed marriage is very rare in my husband’s culture.
That little girl’s observations really showed me the type of thinking that is occurring in this community. I am hopeful that as we continue our marriage others will see the beauty of our union and know that is not weird or strange or taboo. That people of all colors, ethnicity, and religions can fall in love and be happy.