The recent shooting in Olathe of three men, two of them Indian, has been a tragic event for Kansas City, and as we mourn the loss of life and struggle to make meaning of what has transpired, I want to say that the people Adam Purinton was targeting are a vibrant part of the Kansas City community. I’m hopeful that something positive can come out of this and that it wasn’t just another act of senseless violence.
I can only assume that Purinton had a heart filled with hate, a mind filled with ethno-nationalism, or simply callous disregard for his fellow man to do what he did that night in February.
Revelations that he thought he had shot Iranians are unfortunate given that they are a lively and integral part of the Kansas City area. I was born and raised in Kansas City and have been a lifelong Chiefs, KU and (like many, a recent) Royals fan. My roots are firmly in Kansas City, and though work has relocated me to Washington, D.C., I happily tell any flippant East Coaster who says Kansas is flyover country that I am a proud Kansan from a state with a distinguished history of abolitionists, writers, thinkers, populists, hardworking agrarians, jazz musicians, soldiers, inventors, businessmen and politicians.
Having been raised in the Iranian-American community in Kansas City, I can tell you in all fairness that this amazing community is deeply ingrained in the Kansas tradition. Many came fleeing the undemocratic and stifling regime of the shah in the 1970s, and others came seeking freedom from the Islamic Revolution’s subsequent theocracy. They chose Kansas as their home and chose to raise their children here. They worked hard and integrated into this town, and now we are your Overland Park neighbor, your St. Luke’s doctor, your traffic lawyer, your car dealer, your Sprint technician, your hairstylist, your Army soldier, your Children’s Mercy nurse and many more.
My friends in this community argue about how KU basketball player Frank Mason should be player of the year, and why Arthur Bryant’s barbecue is infinitely better then Jack Stack’s. We complain about KU’s tuition going up and that Gov. Sam Brownback isn’t doing enough to bolster our schools. We wept when Michael Morse hit an RBI against the Royals in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, and we cheered when Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain took charge in the ninth inning of Game 5 the following year.
At parties, we’ll joke about the traffic in L.A. and how good we have it in Kansas City. We were excited when the streetcar opened and love the fact that our city is making Top 10 lists. You’ll find us sipping cocktails on the Plaza, eating kabobs at each other’s houses, working alongside you at your cubicle or enjoying a funny rant on Church of Lazlo in our cars.
I say all this because there is good in this community, because when you see yourself in others prejudice is eliminated, and because love trumps hate.
The Iranian-American community in Kansas has come from strange lands. We’ve escaped war and persecution and worked hard over decades to assimilate and prosper. We truly love this city, community and state, and no amount of hate should convince you otherwise.
Mike Aghayan is a native of Kansas City, living in Washington D.C.