By Aleksandr Chandra
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Mandeep Jangi, a self-identified gay Sikh man who is taking time away from corporate America to pursue volunteer service as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in the United States Peace Corps. Mandeep is currently serving abroad to share his skills with those in his reach to promote localized economic growth.
I began the conversation by asking Mandeep about his viral “I’m From Driftwood” video. Back in 2013/14 when Mandeep was still living in Philadelphia, a friend of his reached out to see if he would be interested in sharing a piece of his story. What viewers get in the 5-minute clip is a glimpse into Mandeep’s life as a gay Sikh man who has navigated the continuous process of coming out.
In the viral video, Mandeep reinvents the narrative of “coming out” by sharing the decisions he made to be his authentic self and how reconciling his relationship with his faith and his openness with his sexual orientation were important steps in the journey.
His experiences growing up as a turbaned Sikh and his decision to express his visible identity gave him the emotional maturity for coming out and being proud of his sexual identity. While both decisions were made asynchronously, however, both moments form an aggregate impression of authentic expression.
Mandeep said that the decision to reconcile the more visible aspect of his identity was made first. He recounted to me growing up as a traditional Sikh, but one day making the decision to cut his hair. Then came the decision to reconcile the more invisible aspect of his identity. On Thanksgiving day in 2011, Mandeep came out to his family as gay.
For Mandeep though,coming out was a “truly independent acknowledgement,” a process of coming to self-consciously accept his own sexual orientation by coming out, first and foremost, to himself.
Mandeep’s sexual orientation, however, proved not only to be an important aspect of his identity, but it also proved to be an important asset as well. After coming out to himself and his family, Mandeep was soon recruited to launch an employee resource group for the lgbt community at his employer at the time. Mandeep’s own personal identity was being woven into the fabric of his professional narrative. Coming out professionally, “opened doors for others to come in” said Mandeep. The more “visible” he became in the workplace, the more professional experiences he was afforded.
The decision to come out for Mandeep was for personal happiness and success. Before coming out, Mandeep spoke about a pain, a pit, he would feel in his chest that would later subside upon embarking on a journey to become “a whole authentic individual.” That journey, Mandeep said, especially as a South Asian, is “a journey for everybody” that requires the entire family to remap and redraw their children’s paths in life as the child is also figuring it out for themselves.
At the end our conversation I asked Mandeep a rather tangential question with the intention to remap and redraw our very discussion. When asked how he defines success, Mandeep’s answer was two-pronged.
Mandeep said, “personal success is always about maintaining highest level of authenticity and about defining one’s purpose and mission in life. As far as professional success is concerned, we should be striving to build a better world for tomorrow then where it was yesterday.”
And when asked to share his message Mandeep said that
“Coming out is not a race. It happens when a person is ready.”
For Mandeep, coming out involved a high level of self-initiative and various sources of inspiration. Mandeep was inspired by the many intelligent friends in his life who push him, tell him when he is wrong, and challenge his opinions, because in the end
“A large part of who we are is who we surround ourselves with.”