My childhood was filled with the warmth of the sun from India. When you walk into my home now, the smell of turmeric and red chili stewing in our meal for the day will hit immediately, and you'll see the vibrancy of the hand-sewn and printed clothes that hang on the wall from Punjab. You'll hear the loud laugh of my father rumbling from down the hall as my parents speak to one another in Punjabi, the language rolling seamlessly off their tongues with their thick accents. My home was always a safe space, but my childhood was different than most of my peers.
At the age when most kids learned not to take candy from strangers, I learned what to do if someone called me a terrorist. This difference came from a single aspect of my being: my race. I wish I could say this was the end of the differences between my upbringing and my peers, but it was not.
On August 5th, 2012, I vividly remember mourning the deaths that occurred from the Oak Creek shooting. I was 11 years old, and it was the first time I had ever seen people who looked like me shot mercilessly in my own country. When I first heard about the shooting, I fell to the floor, my vision foggy like the roads in the morning and my heart pounding out of my chest. I couldn't hear anything and my breathing was sharp.
Inhale, Exhale. Inhale, Exhale. Inhale, Exhale. Inhale, Exhale.
I could hear myself wheezing. The room was spinning. Hot tears were flowing down my face. At the time, I couldn't understand what was happening to me. I would later learn that this was my first ever panic attack.
My friends did not react to the shooting in the same way. They carried on with their days and their lives, but I could not. It's been seven years since the Oak Creek shooting, and even now I tremble while writing about it. After Oak Creek, I was desperate to find people who cared. I was desperate to understand why my peers didn't care the way I did.
Every article about Oak Creek that I could find was written by wealthy, white, cisgender, heterosexual men. Every. Single. One.
In fact, in almost every article, they called the Sikh place of worship a temple. In my entire life, I have never referred to my sacred space as a temple, it has always been referred to as a Gurdwara. Yet no article explained this.
The Oak Creek shooting made me realize something that forever changed my perspective about reading and writing: all the history I had read, and all the current history being recorded, was not written by someone who looked like me.
I wish I could say that as I grew up I found this to be a false observation, a special case scenario, but I can't.
When Tamir Rice, an unarmed 12-year-old boy was fatally shot, I went to see who wrote about him and the injustice. I wasn't surprised when I saw the same pattern: people who did not belong to the community that they were covering were the sole authors of that community's narrative in mainstream media.
This is problematic for a multitude of reasons. How can one expect their peers to care for events that don't harm their race when no articles are accurately explaining the events happening? When there are no insider perspectives?
Suddenly, the shame I had felt since I was a child became a responsibility. Gone were the days of me feeling ashamed for the color of my skin. Now came the days of being the voice I yearned to hear when I was younger. This passion, this sudden responsibility within me was so strong that I based my career on it.
I am studying political science, and it is not easy. Beyond the academic rigor, my major requires me to acknowledge again and again that people who looked like me were not involved in the decision-making of my country and are still not a part of it. History was not written from their perspective, and there has not been any change.
But these realizations reaffirm my purpose. Although people of color may not have been a part of the narrative, women of color were not considered in policy, and we were not the original authors, we will be now.