NEW YORK – Indian American J. J. Kapur, a junior at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, won the National Speech and Debate Tournament after his speech won the competition in the category of original oratory.
Kapur’s persuasive speech titled ‘Let’s Dance’ talked about his experiences as a Sikh-American after 9/11 and started off with a Bollywood dance; “I found that the story of Bollywood was just that, a story….And this disconnect between story and reality extends far beyond India’s borders. We are a story-telling society. We each seek to provide our scattered and confusing experiences with a sense of coherence, by arranging the episodes of our lives into stories. The problem arises when our complex realities does not match the narrative,” Kapur said in his speech.
Kapur told PTI that he was only two-years-old when the September 11, 2001, attacks happened and that even though he does not remember much, he remembers pointing to the TV screen when they showed Osama Bin Laden’s photo and claimed it was a picture of his father.
The incident was a turning point for his father after he realized how he and his family would be seen as from that point on.
“My father was afraid that Americans would see his beard and turban and think ‘terrorist’,” he said recalling another incident when he was mocked by a group of strangers at a restaurant who told him to “Go home, Osama.”
He was shocked to hear such things, “I remember thinking, ‘I’m an American. I’ve lived here my whole life. This is my home,” and so “as a Sikh minority, I want to use speech and debate to amplify the voice of Sikhs in my community. I want to use the platform I have for advocacy.”