The Daily Heller: Introducing the Original Sikh Captain America

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“Know your vulnerabilities; know your strengths. Tell them; don’t keep them inside you. And that’s where you’re going to find courage.” —Vishavjit Singh

In 2014 I wrote about Vishavjit Singh in The Atlantic.

In the face of the all-too-common prejudice that prevails today, Vishavjit Singh cut his hair and shaved his beard as a means to bust common Sikh stereotypes—but that did not end the racist energy aimed toward him. So one day, Singh decided to transform himself into something more American than Marvel’s heroes—he became the Sikh Captain America in art and life.

As I wrote back then, “Not all superheroes are fictional. For example: Vishavjit Singh, the first Sikh Captain America. An editorial cartoonist by trade, a few months ago he suited up as a real-life turbaned and bearded version of Jack Kirby’s strongman and strode through New York City to promote his Sikh Comics while fighting religious and ethnic stereotypes.”

I was impressed and inspired by his courage in the face of prejudice—and the Sikhtoons and illustrations that document it. And now, a new animated short documentary titled American Sikh brings Singh’s story further to vibrant life.

Currently in selected screenings (and available here), American Sikh is an emotionally powerful autobiography in which Singh comes to terms with life in America in an unexpected way. Co-directed by Ryan Westra and Singh, the animation is exquisite and the art is a fine balance of saturated color and expressive bold linear rendering. The script is warmly and wittily compelling.

While the film eloquently speaks for itself, I asked Singh to answer a few questions below.

The film is so heartfelt and emotional. Great voiceover, too. How did you go about developing this condensation of your work in comics?
I worked with Southern California-based filmmaker Ryan Westra, who was one of the filmmakers behind the Red, White & Beard short live action documentary almost 10 years ago. He followed my work over the years and requested we create a film telling my full life story, not just the Captain America performance art.

Since Oct. 7, have you felt any backlash?
I have been lucky not to have any harassment targeted my way since Oct. 7, but I know Sikhs across the U.S. who have been targeted. We have had two major incidents in NYC targeting Sikhs where arrests have been made.

You’ve received only good wishes from strangers when you wear the Captain America suit. Does your immunity from harassment continue after you remove the costume?
In civilian clothes stereotypes kick in associated to turbans and beards. Countering intolerance and hate is a lifelong 24/7 mission for sure.

Westra and Singh

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