Harleen Kaur spent most of her childhood in Southeastern Wisconsin, part of one of the few Sikh families in the region. As a Brown woman, her consciousness of racialized and gendered dynamics of power were formed from a young age. An active member of the local Sikh community, she found her voice through Sikh youth camps, participating in religious services and Khalsa school, and Sikh youth speech competitions. Her community instilled in her that it was important to be a strong representative of the faith while also excelling, as this was the way to prove our (read: Sikhs') collective validity as Americans.
On August 5, 2012, a neo-Nazi gunman entered the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and began shooting. Murdering six members of her childhood community and traumatizing the rest, Harleen was left questioning not only the violent act, but also what she had been taught throughout her youth—that increasing public awareness of the Sikh identity was enough to eliminate hate and ignorance.
An undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, Harleen redirected her interests into public policy and advocacy to create better tactics for hate crime response and prevention. While interning with The Sikh Coalition and, a year later, on Capitol Hill, Harleen realized several issues— (1) community organizations failed to have an intersectional approach for both inter- and intra-community issues and (2) government representatives were not proactive enough to be advocates for their constituents.
In an effort to raise her own awareness, Harleen decided to forego an immediate continuation of her higher education and pursued gap-year opportunities that would provide this education. Fortunate enough to receive the Bonderman Fellowship, she spent 10 months traveling through 15 countries to build her knowledge of third world and diasporic communities and their understanding of self and identity.
At the end of these travels, Harleen was struck by the ways in which diasporic identity is recreated and influenced by local culture, government, and policy. Particularly, how could those with the same ancestry and legacy end up with such varying understandings of their collective identity?