Many American Hindus view their lives as having two poles. They
display their Hindu side at home or at the temple amongst family and
their American side at school or work. This dual life–almost like split
personality–can be confusing when the two areas converge. But this is
not the only way to live as an American Hindu. In fact, I strongly
believe that these two identities are inextricably linked in my
existence as a Hindu in the United States.
My Hindu-ness makes me a better American, because I understand that
there is a certain essence that links us. Just as understanding that
the soul (atman) links the entire universe helps me dispel the illusion of distinctions (maya), understanding the essence of what makes me American helps me look past different skin colors and accents.
During my freshman year of college, I looked into the mirror in my
dorm room, and for the first time, I really understood that I have
looked and will always look South Asian. By my appearance alone, no one
would understand how much I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of
Rights. Internally, I face a struggle. In my interest area of
international development and health, someday I would like to work for
the U.S. government, and even serve as a delegate in international
settings. But I also realize that when people look at me, they see a
South Asian. And unless I put my pen down to paper or open my mouth to
speak, there is no way of conveying my Hindu American identity.
I was, once again, forced to consider this dilemma when I recently
attended a White House ceremony recognizing the valiant work of Hindus
in the Armed Forces. I found myself surprised to wonder how they so
bravely pledged their lives for a country their parents had only
immigrated to a few decades ago. What makes us so loyal to the U.S.?
What keeps us from working for a South Asian county when that is the
region from where my genes, faith and culture come?
Even more recently, in my hunt to find an apartment, I encountered a
young woman who, via e-mail, asked me where I was from. Without
thinking much, I wrote that I had always lived in the U.S. She then
replied, “well, where are you originally from.” Looking at that e-mail, I
wanted to shout, “America! I was born here!” I realized that was not
the answer she was looking for, but why did it matter from which country
my parents immigrated if I told her I was American. Regardless of my
feelings of my American identity, she refused to accept me due to the
foreignness of my name. But that is exactly what makes me a Hindu
But what does it mean to be Hindu, and what does it mean to be
American? And where does the essence of those identities intersect?
My faith helps me understand that while all things in the universe have so many different exteriors, they all have the same atman.
What is the similarity between a tree, a human and a mushroom? It seems
like little, seeing as how they are not even in the same kingdom
taxonomy. By dispelling maya, we find that all beings are created from the same soul.
My dedication to my faith does not take away from my American
identity, but instead reinforces this message. I see America as a
beautiful potpourri of people and cultures – all with same soul of
liberty, opportunity and freedom. Being American is about having a
certain invisible essence that links us to all other Americans,
regardless of external appearance. No single external feature in body,
voice or movement distinguishes an American. There is no answer to the
question of what a “typical” American looks like. All people living on
this continent came as immigrants, and that is what makes the U.S. such a
sparkling mix of gems of different colors, shapes and sizes. While
human exterior facial features, skin colors and accents can seem to
distinguish one person from another, the atman within all things links
the universe together.
These concepts that are so intrinsic to my understanding of
Hinduism are also so elegantly woven into the fabric of my belief in the
American system. Simply based on citizenship, all Americans can vote,
are guaranteed a fair trial and are promised protection. This idea that
all citizens are equal in the eyes of the U.S. government requires that
we disregard the maya of external features and, instead, understand the
essence of what makes us all American.
My Hindu and American identities intertwine in such a way that I
cannot explain one without the other. These identities teach me to
respect all living and non-living things, and this means that we must
treat everything with equality and care. This is beautifully depicted in
the illustrated pages of my Bhagavad Gita - everything has the
same God within it. This concept involves making sure we strive to give
everyone access to food, water, shelter and medical care, as the U.S.
does through humanitarian assistance. Respecting the soul within all
things means recognizing the equality and oneness that flows through us
My belief of this essential equality defines my duty to serve for
justice, harmony and peace. This way of thinking has not come from my
identity as either a Hindu or an American, but instead as the combined
identity of both. This convergence of ideas like justice, atman
and equality challenge my ideas of race, religion and nationality, and I
strive to fully comprehend that my soul is made of the same essence as
everything else. When the world understands this concept, conflicts over
mine and yours will end, and peace will pervade.
Every day my Hindu-ness makes me a better American and my
American-ness makes me a better Hindu because they teach me that people
and things have the same essence.
My name is Sohini Sircar, and I am 22 years old. I graduated in May
of 2011 from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University
with a Bachelor of Science in Science, Technology and International
Affairs, with a concentration in Biotechnology and Global Health and a
certificate in International Development. I am currently working at the
National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health.
Throughout my years, I have been deeply involved with the Hindu Students
Association and Campus Ministry at Georgetown University to plan seva
events, social opportunities and charity fundraisers. Since the summer
of 2010, I have been involved with the Hindu Students Council and have
had the wonderful opportunity to participate in workshops and
conferences regarding the President’s Interfaith and Community Service
Campus Challenge. Most recently, I attended and helped organize a
conference hosted by Hindu American Seva Charities at the White House
and at Georgetown University. I hope to continue with my work with these
and other Hindu organizations.