August 10th, 2012
04:16 PM ET
By Jareen Imam, CNN
(CNN) – After Sunday’s Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, Sikhs across America started sharing their stories. Stories of shedding their turbans and cutting their hair to avoid ridicule. Stories of facing discrimination for the way they looked. Stories of being labeled Muslims or terrorists.
Those stories were among the iReports submitted by Sikhs in the last week.
Harpreet Kaur says her life changed drastically after the 9/11 attacks. Some classmates shunned her and she was taunted as a "rag head" and "bomber."
"I have been told numerous times to go back to my own country, because only white people belong in America,” she says.
"It never really bothered me. ... In the end I am still a human being and a citizen of the U.S.," the 18-year-old says in a video she sent to iReport.
The college-bound Kaur sent a picture that showed her posing with a sign that says "I'm Sikh, please don't hate me." She says she wants to show those in her small town of Jewett, Texas, that she is different but also has a lot in common with other Americans.
"With this image I wanted to let my community know that, yes, my skin is brown and my hair is dark but that does not make me and my family Muslims or terrorist,” she said. “We are just as American as the people who immigrated here when America was first established."
Some commenters asked Kauer why she calls attention to the fact that she’s not Muslim:
Shedding the turban
Amrinder Singh is a Sikh but he does not wear a turban anymore. Not since he moved to Scott Depot, West Virginia, from Punjab, India.
Singh had heard stories of Sikhs being the target of hate crimes in the United States even before he arrived. "I still remember that I had to cut my long hair in order to work at a gas station," he says in his iReport.
"I wonder if I made the right choice of coming to the U.S.," he says. "I know that most of the people, especially in small towns, are not aware of our culture or religion. However, most of the time I found out that they try to relate us as Muslims."
Harpreet Singh Toor goes a step further, saying he lives in fear that someone will attack him for not being white or Christian.
Last weekend’s temple shooting reinforced that worry, provoking a “sadness that someone, again, decided to show their hate by killing people who happen to look like what that someone thinks Muslims look like."
Toor says he has already been a victim of discrimination. "People have called me towel-head, though I do not wear a turban,” he says in his iReport. “I have been bullied at school for being different, my family's house has had things thrown at it, and the list could go on. I notice how people look at me different because I keep a beard."
The San Diego resident says that such discrimination is not readily acknowledged in the Sikh community: "Most Sikhs don't write about the fear or talk about it because the discrimination, the hate, the awkward glances are a way of life. It's something we experience every day."
New Yorker Simran Singh says she and her husband choose to practice Sikhism, but that the decision comes at a cost. "At times it can be a daunting choice, especially when you hear about ignorance, hatred and violence that occur," she says in her iReport.
In the face of the Wisconsin attack, Singh hopes her three young boys will practice their faith. "I hope that I can be strong enough not to be scared of how people perceive them,” she says in her iReport. “No mother wants to see their child hurt, emotionally or physically.”
Comments speak to Sikh/Muslim confusion
Similar themes emerged in comments on CNN.com’s coverage of Sikhs this week, including on our story The Sikh turban: at once personal and extremely public:
Others said that Sikhs should work to improve relations with other Americans:
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.