Guest Commentary

I saw the worst in America when my husband was murdered, but I’ve also seen its best

In this undated photo provided by Kranti Shalia, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, left, poses for photo with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Las Vegas.
In this undated photo provided by Kranti Shalia, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, left, poses for photo with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Las Vegas.

When I was a child in India, America was the land of dreams. When a cousin or neighbor’s son was leaving for America, we were all proud. It meant they would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and a little bit of all of us would go with them.

Since then, I have witnessed the worst of America. My husband Srinu was murdered last February in Olathe. A man full of ignorance and hatred will stand trial for it. The life Srinu and I had together, the plans we made, the family we hoped to build here, all vanished in a moment of senseless anti-immigrant rage.

But I have seen the best of America too. And I still believe America is the land of dreams.

Srinu was my support system — my motivation. After grad school, the laws changed to allow spouses of some foreign workers to apply for work authorization. I read a story about a woman in New York who kept going to auto showrooms, and eventually walked out with a job. I told Srinu, half-jokingly, “Maybe I should do that.” But he took it very seriously. He said, “Yes, you should.”

He drove me to the Intouch Solutions office in Overland Park and said, “Take a deep breath. You’re just going to drop your resume and let them know you applied for this position online.” He encouraged me to overcome my nervousness and land the job. And I did.

All this flashed back last July, when I returned to work after five months away. Five months, thousands of miles and an emotional distance beyond measuring. When I left, my husband had just been killed. I was returning to India for his funeral, and every certainty in my life was gone.

I didn’t know if I’d be able to return to America, because my immigration status had been entirely dependent on Srinu’s. And I didn’t know if I’d want to.

But I returned.

I returned for the people at Garmin, Srinu’s employer, who organized a vigil and lowered their flags for him. I returned for hundreds of Srinu’s colleagues who came to our house to pay their respects. I returned for the portrait of Srinu that Garmin hung in their aviation department, along with comments from clients praising him.

I returned for Cliff Pemble, CEO of Garmin, and Faruk Capan, CEO of Intouch, who made sure I understood they would be here for me. I returned for the officials who worked on my immigration case while I was away, and were determined to get me back.

I returned for the 18,011 people who donated to a GoFundMe campaign to cover Srinu’s funeral expenses, to bring him back to India and for our family’s recovery.

I returned for all the love that flowed around me after this terrible tragedy. For all the people, near and far, who went out of their way to show me America cannot and must not be judged by the actions of one man.

I also returned for my nephew, in his freshman year at college in Wisconsin, pursuing his own American dream. I returned because America is my home now.

And I returned because my husband, whom I loved more than anyone or anything, believed in America and in me. And I believe in America too.

I do not know yet what my future will be. But I do know it is my mission to ensure Srinu’s life was not for nothing.

To that end, with the help of Intouch, I’ve launched Forever Welcome, a social media initiative on Facebook. Forever Welcome spreads a message of unity, love and acceptance. And it seeks to help ensure the U.S. is a safe place for current and future immigrant generations to pursue their dreams.

Srinu and I dreamed many dreams together. I will continue to do whatever I can, in large ways or small, to give other Srinus and Sunayanas the opportunity to safely dream their American dreams together too.

Sunayana Dumala's husband Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed in a suspected hate crime at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe last February.