“Do we belong?” That’s the question Sunayana Dumala asked in her Facebook post after she lost her husband to a hate crime last year. I took her question as the title of my short documentary, which recently premiered online at The Atlantic.
I read about Srinivas’ death, and the story really hit home. My father came to the US in the 80’s as a software engineer from India’s western neighbor, Pakistan, with a work ethic and ambition that reminded me of what I was reading about Srinivas. Even more than that, the descriptions of Srinivas’ positive nature and playful humor also felt very familiar. There was a sense that I somehow knew him.
Growing up in Long Island, we would hear stories about hate crimes against Muslims and other South Asians and Arabs around the country, regardless of their religious backgrounds, in the aftermath of events like the first World Trade Center bombing, the launching of Desert Storm, and, of course, in the wake of 9/11. It was something we talked a lot about in our community.
As we’ve seen over the years, there have been many unfortunate victims of Islamophobic violence in the United States. And this recent election has ushered in another major increase, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days after 9/11. It is in this context that the tragedy in Olathe, Kansas took place. Although Srinivas was a Hindu, he was identified with the same amorphous threat, by a man who seemed to be searching for a suitable target for his hatred and frustration. It’s an all too common story. This was the worst kind of result: murder. But incidents borne from the same kind of ignorance and malice are happening every day. From hurled insults to broken bones, to shattered windows and burned down houses of worship.
Sunayana’s question, “do we belong here?”, cuts to the heart of what has been on the minds of many as of late – both immigrants, as well as other marginalized groups. Sunayana has arrived at her own conclusion. And while everyone has to find that for themselves, I was inspired by her incredible strength and perseverance in the face of so much adversity. And I am doing what I can to pass along her message of hope and resilience.
Capital K Pictures