‘Why not me?’ This was the question Manpreet Monica Singh, a Texas-born daughter of Indian immigrants, asked herself when she got the opportunity to contest the election to become a judge. And, lo and behold, she will on Sunday assume office as a judge at the Harris County Civil Court at Law No 4.
Monica, who claims to be the first Sikh woman judge in the United States, says she is more excited about what her election as a judge means to the Sikh community at large. “I am excited about the community getting the spotlight, and people asking who are the Sikhs and why does it matter,” she adds.
Her father, who goes by abbreviation AJ, an architect, had immigrated to the US in the early 1970s to achieve the American Dream. Asked how her parents’ experience as immigrants had shaped her, Singh says, “As a turbaned Sikh, my father had to face discrimination. However, like most immigrants, he was at that time more concerned about assimilating the change than anything else. He did not know his rights or that he could fight back. Besides, in those days, there was not much of a platform for immigrants to raise their voice against discrimination.”
However, Monica says, times have changed. “In the school, my brother was bullied, but now people know they can speak up. While it does not really go away and we all go through some level of discrimination, thanks to not just my family’s perspectives but also my religion that makes us advocates, I have always tried to find a resolution and bring a change,” she adds.
A trial lawyer for 20 years, Monica always chose to carve out her own path than take the tried-and-tested route. “As a child, I found history, particularly the civil rights movement, extremely interesting. It was a big deal for me to see people bring a change. So, rather than pursuing engineering or medicine like children from most Sikh families in the US did at the time, I chose to become a lawyer.”
On whether she faced any difficulties as a twice-marginalised brown woman, Monica says, “When I started, law in Houston was a profession dominated by white men. Most people faced trouble even pronouncing my name. They would call me ‘Man-Preet’ and ask me where I was from and what did my name mean.”
“One of my bosses advised me to always tell them that I belonged here (the US). He would tell me to make people realise my parents are from India, not me. I understood that the only way we can shape the narrative is by asserting that we belong here,” she recalls.
So, what will it mean to have a Sikh woman judge? “Houston is a very diverse city. I will bring the perspective of being a first-generation immigrant and a woman. I practice in law so that part will be fluid. But the other part, which is intangible, I will be able to bring in a way that nobody has offered in that position so far,” she says.
“It is an honour to be able to represent our community. I hope I have the blessing of all Sikhs around the world,” Singh adds.