Animator and cosplayer Vishavjit Singh has experienced tremendous trauma in his life. He survived a genocide against Sikh people in India as a young boy, and after he and his family fled to the US, he’s constantly experienced racism and Islamophobia (despite not being Muslim) in the pre- and post-9/11 era. Despite all of this, he remains an optimist for people to treat each other better, and found through his regular cosplaying as Captain America that he could somehow achieve that. But what drew him to this initially?
We continue our special editions of Hard NOC Life recorded exclusively from the NOC Reading Lounge at CTRL+ALT, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s pop-up culture lab in the former Pear River Mart location in SoHo. Today’s one-on-one conversation features Sikh Captain America himself, cartoonist Vishavjit Singh.
Who would the 75 year old quintessential American superhero vote for in the 2016 Presidential election today? For starters, Captain America does not exist. But although he might be fictional his mythology is palpable. Its ethereal connection to us Americans has a physical manifestation.
Trust me. I know. I get to don the uniform of this character armed with my turban and beard. I have traveled from Maine to California to Mississippi to Michigan to the RNC convention in Cleveland engaging fellow Americans from all walks of life.
This uniform has allowed for conversations to start in the midst of fear and ambivalence. It has allowed for common bonds to emerge despite our perceived and real differences
Is America ready for a Sikh Captain America — a superhero fighting hate crimes and intolerance? In the wake of 9/11, the massacre of Sikh Americans in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and America post-Ferguson, my answer is a resounding yes! If superheroes can battle aliens, cyborgs, and fellow villainous superheroes, why can’t there be one that fights for social and racial justice?
In 2013, cartoonist Vishavjit Singh wore a Captain America costume for the first time with a royal blue turban to match his ensemble. The short documentary Red, White, and Beard is a quirky, lighthearted glance into Sikh Captain America and the man behind this growing phenomenon.
On a hot July summer day in New York City, I was working with a film crew hopping in and out of the subway in my costume as Captain America. We stepped out on one of the stops and after shooting for a few hours in Washington Square Park hopped back on the subway. That is when a couple spotted me and appeared amazed at having seen me a second time on the subway that day. The wife initiated the encounter and I sat down next to them for a few brief moments. The couple was from Arizona, and they were in town primarily to tick an item off the husband’s bucket list. To attend an Arsenal soccer match. They asked me what I doing, and I summarized the motivation of my social experiment. I stepped out on my next stop.
We finished the film shooting the next day. Two days later I received an email titled “Our chance encounter” from a sergeant in an Arizona police department. It was one of the most touching mails I have ever received.