Gurpreet Kaur Sandhu stops flattening the dough for chapatis long enough to ask a few questions and set up a future book discussion.
“I’ll give you the copy,” says Kaur .
“Yes, give me the copy and then you can come back,” Kaur Sandhu replies.
Followers of the Sikh faith have lived in California for a century. They’re originally from India’s Punjab region, and settled mostly in the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Although they’ve been in the United States a long time, Kaur says, they’ve recently become victims of hate crimes across the country. Her anthology is in response to these acts of violence, an effort to show who Sikhs really are.
Of the 25 women writers in the anthology, 10 are from California, including Kaur. The stories address love and the resulting joys, complications, even disappointments – love for a place, a man, a woman, a career. When we share our stories, Kaur says, we break down walls of prejudice.
“We may be distinct in our outward appearance spiritually," she says. "But on the inside we experience heartbreak, we get jealous, we ache when our children are hurt."
That outward appearance has made them a target of violent prejudice. At a Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin two years ago, a 40-year-old white supremacist named Wade Michael Page killed five men and one woman. The men all wore turbans as part of their faith.
And just this August, New Yorker Sandeep Singh was run over by a pickup truck driver for wearing a turban. He tells his story in a YouTube video filmed by the Sikh Coalition.
“Two weeks ago I nearly lost my life when a man in a pickup truck called me a terrorist, told me to go back to my country, and then dragged me over 60 feet,” he says in a weak voice.
“There’s been a lot the community has been enduring, especially in a post-9/11 country,” says Kaur.
One goal of the anthology is to show how universally similar Sikhs are to other Americans -- like the chapter that illustrates the classic tension between married women and their mothers-in-law.
“And then as the story goes, both characters grow out of these roles that are pitted against one another at the start, into human beings that genuinely care for each other,” says Kaur. “And I think the lynchpin there was both women let go of judgment.”
At a discussion of the anthology in Fresno, Guddi Kaur Ranu says she understands this dynamic. She tells the group she had trouble watching her married son do his wife’s laundry.
“I’m really giving you the feelings of my double standards, I’m talking very frankly here,” she says. Kaur Ranu grew up in a traditional household in India, and her own marriage was arranged.
Other housework was OK, she says, “but it was going through my mind, 'Why can’t she do the laundry?' ” At this point, all the women start laughing. “But then I thought, ‘No, I should be happy if she’s working right now, he’s home,’” she says. “I corrected myself. It’s so hard to change the thinking, but with the process you can change over time.”
Simran Kaur works for the Sikh Coalition, a group that fights discrimination. She contributed to the anthology and reads to the group from her chapter about her mother’s activism after the 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi.
“My mother never spoke to me about her actions because for her it wasn’t activism. It was her identity inspired by faith. It was only when I went on a school trip to a museum many years later and came across a picture of my mother with her fist in the air surrounded by her children and other Sikh women that I really felt the importance of her role in formulating what activism looked like for me.”
Lawyer and activist Harjit Kaur says she couldn’t put the book down. The name Kaur inspires her, she says, especially now after an abusive marriage.
“My relationship was very, very physically and emotionally abusive,” she tells the group. It took strength and courage to leave it, but when she was in the midst of this horrible time, a friend reminded her that the name 'Kaur' really means empowerment.
“And getting myself out of that, he was like, 'You know, that’s your Kaur, that’s your heritage, the resilience that’s in that Kaur name is within you,' ” she says. “A light bulb went off, like you know I can do this."
At the end of the evening Harjit tells the other women, “This book is a starting point for a conversation. And what we hope is when we all go away tonight, we recognize we all have a story to tell.”
Stories that, if heard often enough, can help people see how alike we all are, says editor Meeta Kaur. She also has another anthology in the works -- this time of Sikh-American men writing about love.