Written by Muslim Girl Staff Writer, Kaitlin Abdelrahman
Less than two weeks ago on Feb. 22, 2017, the police in a suburban Kansas town responded to a shooting at a local favorite, Austin’s Bar and Grill. Three residents of Olathe, Kansas, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, Alok Madasani, 32 and Ian Grillot, 24, were shot by a man whose name and story is not worth mentioning and has already been grossly over-reported by local and national media outlets.
I grew up in Olathe, Kansas. We frequented Austin’s as a family throughout my childhood and it was the definition of a local joint. Everyone knew it and everyone loved it. I moved away and hadn’t been back in over 10 years, even missing my high school reunion which was, of course, at Austin’s.
I decided to make a visit back to the place that was the stage of so many magical life moments for me but had now become the setting of something so tragic and devastating.
Details of the hate crime (which for some reason has not been officially deemed a hate crime) have made headlines all over the world. This act of terror, which undoubtedly stemmed from rampant bigotry and hatred sprawling the nation, ended the very young life of Srinivas Kuchibhotla at just 32 years old and injured two others.
But amongst that powerful hate, there was love. Although it wasn’t enough to save Srinivas’s life, the love was enough to ignite something far more beautiful and powerful than anything hate could ever accomplish – the courage and heroism displayed by Ian Grillot as he confronted the evil was love’s first punch back. And it never stopped fighting. Kansas, though not without blemishes, has historically fought for freedom and justice for marginalized peoples, as it did in Brown v Board of Education.
During the years, in between my visits to Austin’s, I had changed my religion from Christianity to Islam and put a veil on my head. I moved away from Kansas a few times, but always found my way back home. I was born and raised in Olathe, Kansas to an upper-middle-class white family. I had no idea what the reality of a marginalized person in America was like.
It wasn’t until covering my hair and marrying a Middle Eastern immigrant that I was given a very small dose of what it is like to live a marginalized life. However, my experience is my choice and with the simple removal of a piece of fabric all of the privilege I was born with magically returns and my “otherness” disappears.
Therefore, I can never know how it feels to be Srinivas or Alok. All I can do is use my privilege to stand up for what is right and turn to the love that was instilled in me by my family, my community and the culture that made up the beautiful and loving town of Olathe, Kansas.
As people from around the world came together on GoFundMe, the power of love came bursting through funds and words of support. Over $1 million was raised in combined efforts for the three victims. Ian Grillot with this to say:
Ian Grillot expressed his appreciation: “It’s hard sometimes closing my eyes, but one thing that is wonderful to me is when I get online and I see all this support and the different walks of lives coming together and forming a bond, that wouldn’t have happened normally,”
This is what it’s all about. The people who came together under the banner of love and with the strong message that this isolated incident is not the view of all Kansans. Mayor Mike Copeland of Olathe was sure to get that point across. “When you grieve, we all grieve,” Copeland said. “We will not let one act of evil separate us or divide us.”
The Indian Association of Kansas City president Sridhar Harohalli said, “It’s home to me, it’s home to me then, it’s home to me now, it’s home to me forever.”
Out of all of this sadness and loss, my thoughts out go first to the widow of Srinvas Kuchlibhotla. Her name is Sunayana Dumala. She shared her thoughts for the first time today on her Facebook account:
“Kansas was our instant choice, and we moved here with a lot of dreams. We built our dream home, which he painted, and installed the garage door. Doing any kind of work on his home gave him immense joy. This was the home that he had built to – for us and any kids we would have- was our first step to starting our family… Lastly, to answer the question that is in every immigrant’s mind, DO WE BELONG HERE? Is this the same country we dreamed of and is it still secure to raise our families and children here?”
To you, my sister in humanity and my fellow Kansan – you absolutely do belong here and I look forward to working with you and every other like-minded person to make sure that this is the safe and secure country of your dreams.
Kansas is home to people of all colors, religions, sexual orientations and identities and we all have proven to the world that no matter what hatred slips through the cracks, love will always surpass hate here in Kansas.
Despite these rare tornadoes, there is no place like home.