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Off the Beat

HariniShyamsundar_online

I remember the exact moment I got the news alert.

I was staggering out the door of my apartment, late to my 11 a.m. class. Holding a slightly burnt bagel between my teeth, I closed the front door and locked it. As I began hobbling down the apartment corridor in my half-untied sneakers, I saw my phone flash with the familiar news app logo. I glanced down at the alert — updates on a shooting in Olathe, Kansas from the previous evening.

Normally, I would have screenshotted the alert as a reminder to look it up later, but the words “hate crime” and “Indian” in the title held me rooted to the spot for several seconds. Finally, giving up on making it to class on time, I swiped right on the alert and unlocked my iPhone to scan the article.

I scrolled through the article until I found the name of the victim: Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32-year-old Indian engineer. My stomach twisted into a knot — but not in the pleasant, familiar way it does when Indian names crop up in my textbooks and on television. I scrolled down further and found Kuchibhotla’s photograph, and my heart gave a dull ache. I had never known this man but, in that moment, everything about him seemed familiar.

In the days after the Kansas shooting, follow-up coverage poured in. Kuchibhotla’s widow, Sunayana Dumala, spoke out, demanding answers from the government about how it addresses hate crimes. President Donald Trump condemned the shooting Feb. 28 — nearly a week after it happened.

Eyewitnesses alleged that the gunman had told the victim to “get out of (his) country” before shooting him. And this, for me, was the worst blow.

I was five when I learned that my parents were immigrants. I was 10 when I understood what that meant. I was privileged to grow up in Santa Clara County — in the heart of Silicon Valley — which has the highest immigrant population of California’s 58 counties. Many of my school friends’ parents and even some of my friends are immigrants. The idea of immigrating to the United States never struck me as something remotely controversial in my childhood.

Reports of hate crimes and mass shootings have clogged up my newsfeed in the past several years, each as horrifying as the next, but the shooting in Kansas — although it happened more than 1,800 miles away — hit particularly close to home.

My father — an engineer like Kuchibhotla — immigrated to the United States from India in 1984 on a student visa. His first several months in Pennsylvania consisted mostly of being told to speak more slowly and repeat himself, which he did without complaint. Despite coming from money, my dad didn’t accept a cent from back home, buying American groceries and paying his American rent entirely with his American graduate-student salary. More than three decades later, my dad has given more to the United States than to the country he was born in. His Indian citizenship is gone, along with 60 percent of his accent.

He does his taxes on time. He tips generously at restaurants, and he makes it a point to tell the manager how great his meal was. He watches football as avidly as he watches cricket. He constantly worries about me and my future, so I don’t have to. And when I submitted my statement of intent to register at UC Berkeley, he was so excited that you’d have thought he was the one going to college that fall.

Kuchibhotla’s friend Alok Madasani, who was also shot that evening in Kansas, said in February that he believed the shooting “doesn’t reflect the true spirit” of the United States. And despite the current political climate, I’m inclined to agree. Hundreds attended a vigil for the victims of the Olathe shooting in Kansas. After the shooting, Dumala made a public Facebook post that has garnered almost 8,000 comments expressing condolences and support.

Dumala closed her Facebook post with a question to readers: “DO WE BELONG HERE?”

Tell me Kuchibhotla didn’t belong in this country. Tell me Dumala doesn’t belong in this country. Tell me my dad — who has played by every rule, who has done everything right — doesn’t belong in this country.

Tell me that more than a tenth of this country doesn’t belong here. I dare you.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.