Guests in Punjab are like representatives sent by God. For this reason, Sikh Temples, or Gurudwaras, leave doors open for everyone independent of their faith or nationality. Guests to a temple are served food and even offered a place to stay in the temple, if they’re in need. Hospitality is a guiding principle of the Sikh faith.
Still, I was nervous to go in. I was afraid of overstepping boundaries or committing some atrocious faux-pas in this sacred place of worship. But Jasleen Karir, my good friend and translator, calmed my nerves.
“I’m very happy to have been born into Sihkism because it’s so focused on community and humanity,” she told me as we took off our shoes and socks before entering the Sikh Gurudwara Gurdarshan Sahib Ji in Barcelona.
Jasleen had wanted to visit a Sikh temple for some time now. For weeks, she had been feeling homesick, she said, because she missed her family and her dog Sully. Later that night, she would be given a rose by an Indian street florist simply for speaking Punjabi. She was ecstatic.
“Take off your shoes and socks, wash your hands and feet and cover your hair,” Jasleen had told me. “When you’re offered food, cup your hands together as a sign of respect.”
The Indian community in Spain is perhaps the smallest population of the Indian diaspora in the world. Only about 35,000 Indian citizens reside in Spain, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs. In comparison, more than 52 thousand Indian Americans live in the Seattle Metropolitan Area.
In Kent, my hometown and one of the most culturally diverse cities in Washington state, a Sikh man was shot while working on his car in the driveway to his home. The shooting happened one Friday evening in East Hill, not 5 miles from my home. The gunman had yelled at the victim to go back to his own country before committing the hate crime.
He survived but the event shook the Sikh community across the country. America can be dangerously skeptical of the outside world. But in Spain, I’m told things are different.
“People are good with the Sikh religion, they have no problem,” Sandeep Singh, a German citizen in Barcelona said. “Some people who don’t know about Sikh religion, they are scared. It’s a little bit of people like that in every country.”
Parminder Singh says the struggle in being an immigrant to Spain is in finding a stable job. He currently lives in Barcelona, close to the temple, he said, and is waiting for his citizenship application to go through the Civil Register.
He served me a glass of water as I came in and showed me apps, websites and YouTube videos I could use to learn more about the Sikh faith. He gave me his number in case I had any questions about Sikhism and he offered me lunch, a vegetarian dish I didn’t recognize but that reminded me of something my mother makes with green chili peppers and chicken.
I ate the delicious, spicy goop with something that resembled a flour tortilla, Parshadha Jasleen tells me, my legs crossed on the temple floor. And although I didn’t understand the language or customs of the temple, with a full stomach and a happy heart, I felt at home.