At Trump’s inauguration on January 21, Captain America swooped down by the gates in his trademark shield and red-white-blue suit. He proclaimed he was prepared to face “resistance and even outright aggression” from those against his message of diversity. This Captain America, however, was of South Asian descent and was sporting a matching blue turban and a long black beard. This Captain America is Vishavjit “Vish” Singh.
In his hands was a sign underlining the essence of what truly makes America great:
“Black, Muslim, Trans, Latino, Asian, White…We all Make America Great.”
“My Captain America alter-ego is all about promoting a twitch in our perceptual reality to create a space where perhaps for a few moments we can look beyond our stereotypes,” Singh told The Huffington Post then.
“Americans come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds. There is no American look.”
Surprisingly, “more than a few supporters of the soon-to-be president were very open to my presence and message. Many came up to take photos with me.”
Building upon the same theme, the man who has been dubbed the Sikh Captain America, Washington D.C.-born former software engineer and a cartoonist, lecturer on diversity and inclusion, the UC Berkeley graduate and New York resident, Singh plans to visit Silicon Valley companies and meet high school students to promote his vision of compassion and love.
“Every company these days now has an office of diversity,” Singh told KTVU. “I have been traveling across the U.S. talking about labels and stereotypes. Labels confine us. If we focus on stories, we find out we have a lot more in common.”
Singh himself has been targeted in the post-911 world. He and other Sikh Americans were mistaken for Muslim Americans and faced the brunt of harassment, abuse and hate at a pivotal time when, instead of a divided nation coming together, the world seemed to turn against those with a dark skin.
“I’m an American and I was being targeted,” he said. “It was hard to process.”
The turning point came when Singh saw a satirical, animated cartoon drawn by a Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore, who once worked for San Jose Mercury News. It portrayed a Sikh character and dared readers to “find the terrorist.” This led to Singh drawing his own cartoons at Sikhtoons.com centered on his favorite theme: labels confine us, stories define us. Soon, Singh donned a Captain America suit with a personalized twist.
“When I first put on the suit, it was one of the most amazing days of my life. It was like a switch had been flicked. Strangers were embracing me, cops were asking me for photos, I was being dragged into weddings.”
This was in stark contrast to what Singh had envisioned. President Trump’s “Make America Great Again’ slogan was widely criticized for undermining the diversity Singh hopes to promote. Trump himself has been accused of sidelining marginalized communities in the United States.
But even with this positive experience, Singh was realistic about the challenges that lie ahead.
“Our journey ahead is going to be bumpy ride through with major political turbulence,” he said. “Our main weapon of choice has to be knowledge. We need to make sure not to let the anger drive us towards hate.”
Singh soon became a motivational speaker and a performance artist. He charges anywhere from $500 to $4,000 for a speaking engagement, often performing for free when schools cannot afford to pay him.
This week, Singh will be visiting the campuses of Google and NASA Ames Research Center to play his role as a hero fighting stereotypes.
“You see, Captain America is the ultimate hero – he’s patriotic, strong, the uniform has the red, white and blue. He’d been created to fight actual bad guys in the Second World War,” he told BBC.
But maybe, sometimes the hero inside us has the responsibility to fight our worst fears and instincts.
“I try to channel the super hero that lies within us,” Singh says.
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