“Me and Srinu, we believed this is our home, this is where we belong. All of this was cut short because of one person’s ignorance.” Sunayana Dumala tearfully talks about the hate crime which led to the untimely death of her husband Srinivas Kuchibhotla. Dumala and Kuchibotla are the subjects of the short film “Do We Belong?,” which brings to the forefront of this tragic incident. The documentary is part of The Atlantic Selects, a series of short films curated by the magazine.
On 22 February 2017, Kuchibotla and his friend Alok Madasani were at a happy hour in Olathe, Kansas, after work when they were verbally attacked by United States Navy veteran Adam Purinton, who questioned their legal status. After being confronted and told to leave by the restaurant staff, he returned and started firing at the two men, killing Kuchibotla in the process. Purinton later admitted that he believed that both of them were illegal Iranian immigrants, when in fact the two men lived and worked in the U.S. on an H1-B work visa.
In “Do We Belong?,” director Sofian Khan retraces Kuchibotla’s marriage, home, and the dream life he was building for himself with his wife. Dumala appears in most of the film, talking about how she met him, their big plans for life, their daily routine which both of them had grown to love. She recounts the devastating day and moment when she found out not only that her husband died but that he was a victim of a hate crime in a country he had moved to and wanted so very much to belong to.
It’s a poignant 14-minute documentary. It needed to be made. It needs to be seen. We’ve grown accustomed to gun violence, hate crimes, and systemic ignorance because it occurs so frequently now. We’ve become desensitized to the machinations of the world we live in. “Do We Belong?” wants to bring the attention back to where it matters. Hate crimes against South Asians, whether its Muslims or Sikhs or anyone else, it’s a reality; a reality we rarely talk about and a reality we rarely try to fix.
This story feels personal on many levels. Even if we didn’t know Kuchibhotla, when you read about who he was, why he moved here from Hyderabad, India, and learn about his kind, humorous personality, it feels like we’ve all known someone like him. He, or none of the victims of hate crimes or Islamophobia, deserve to be harrowed and hurt for being who they are.
At the same time, Dumala’s journey is inspiring and filled with hope. She is doing her part. After losing her husband, she was facing deportation because he was the primary visa holder in their marriage. She faced the threat of leaving behind the life she knew and the life she had built with Kuchibhotla. Her community and employers rallied behind her and today, she continues to live here and has started Forever Welcome, a non-profit that “generates empathy and understanding for people who immigrate to the U.S. by bringing their personal journey and contributions to light.”
In its own way, Khan’s documentary is doing the very same thing. It’s shedding a light on something that happened only over a year ago but we’ve already forgotten about it. Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was moved by Dumala’s story and knew he had to play his part in telling it right. “Do We Belong?” does just that. It reminds us of this fateful incident, it reminds us to continue fighting for what’s right.