Glimmers of Hope
This past week was spring break for my kids and this year we ended it at home, after visits that included northern California, Chicago, and western Michigan. The visits reminded me of how diverse our nation is in geography and outlook, just like the range of perspectives that I seesaw between, as a Hindu American advocate and an interfaith activist.
In northern California, I met friends from the Hindu American community, like Mihir Meghani and Easan Katir. Mihir Meghani is a co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which advocates for human rights and promotes the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance, and pluralism. He was profiled in the AJC's America's Table for helping start the Foundation, and serves as an inspiration to many in the community for his dedication, energy, and focus. Easan Katir is an interfaith leader for the HAF team in the San Francisco area, and is a part of SiVIC—the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council—which "builds interreligious harmony and understanding so as to promote a just and compassionate society in Silicon Valley." Easan and I shared the common challenges we face as part of the nation's interfaith movement, be it in the Bay area, where Hindu ideas have taken root for decades, or the Motor City, home to the largest mosque in the U.S.
In Chicago, I met family—foreign students in graduate school—whose rather stereotyped understanding of America and Americans left me wondering how to bridge gaps created by national identities. America's policies on war, or its dealings with Pakistan and India, can make little sense to someone from India (and me too). Trying to explain what I do with the Foundation and the importance of advocacy in America, particularly for Hindus, seemed as futile as explaining the questionable ethics of conversion to Christianity when coupled with humanitarian aid to someone from Troy who goes on mission trips to India.
In western Michigan, I met friends and family—a like-minded Hindu temple spokesperson and cousins with a new baby—hoping to create an alliance between them so that advocacy and faith can come together for future generations of Hindu Americans. The hope was tempered by reality; the politics and religion of the region include a strong Tea Party movement and the organization Mission India, which claims that in India, "Superstition and idol worship have an iron grip—there is no forgiveness or joy."
Back at home, I finally caught up on my reading, emails that I had saved, with links that I wanted to read rather than skim: the resolution that Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison sponsored; the story of Rinkel Kumari, a 19-year-old Hindu student who converted to Islam under disputed circumstances last month.
Padma Kuppa is a writer, IT professional, community activist, wife, and mother working to build a more pluralistic society within a Hindu and interfaith framework. You can also read her blog A Balancing Act, at padmakuppa.blogspot.com. The views represented in this column are not a reflection of the views of any organization of which she is a part.