Is Captain America really a Sikh?
A Sikh man in his 40s been seen talking to strangers in New York while dressed as Captain America!
“I want to challenge people’s perceptions, I want them to have a mind freak when they see me.”
So says Vishavjit Singh, a mild-mannered software engineer by day and passionate cartoonist by night.
“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.”
The 43-year-old’s fellow Americans have not always been so welcoming. A devout Sikh, complete with traditional turban and flowing beard, Vishavjit – or Vish as he is known – has always attracted attention.
“I’m still seen by many as the ‘ultimate other’ in American society – a radical Muslim. Harassment goes up and down depending on the news,” he says.
He turned to his hobby of drawing as an outlet, creating cartoons depicting what life in America was like for Sikhs – focusing on the patriotism he felt for the country he was born in and the pride for the religion he belonged to.
“I realised I had to draw something fresh and the new Captain America film gave me an idea. How about a superhero who has a beard and a turban and fights intolerance?”
A local comic book convention provided the perfect opportunity for him to get his work noticed and it was there that he met a photographer who suggested he bring the character to life – by dressing up as Captain America himself.
“My first response was, ‘no way’. I’d never worn a costume and I’m a skinny guy who’s been kind of teased and bullied all my life,” he says.
Then things changed. In August 2012, six people were killed after a US Army veteran with ties to white supremacist groups opened fire on worshipers at a gurdwara in Wisconsin while preparations for a service were under way.
The incident forced Singh to once again reassess the way minorities like himself were being perceived in America. His cartoons were a way of tackling the stigma faced by Sikhs, but the self-confessed introvert felt he still had to do more.
It was then that he remembered his earlier conversation at the comic convention. He swiftly ordered a bespoke Captain America suit tailored to fit his slender 5’9″, 130 pound (58kg) frame.
“I was trying out the uniform at home for the first time, stuffing sports pads in to make myself look bigger and trying to work out a plan,” he says.
“My wife came over to me and said, ‘just be yourself’.”
Singh said he was nervous about wearing the costume on the streets of New York for the first time, but has been “stunned” by the reception since then.
“I have had strangers hug me,” said Singh, “Got pulled into wedding parties, [was] photographed by police officers, had access to a fire truck for a photo shoot, got love letters from fans across the entire nation, [received] teary eyed letters from veterans and soldiers serving in Afghanistan, [got] invitations from museums, universities and late night comedy shows. What I imagined would be my first and last costume playing outing has turned into a journey across the nation from NYC, LA, Kansas and on to next stops.”
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