On February 22, 2017, Adam Purinton, a United States Navy veteran, walked into Austin’s Bar in Olathe, Kansas and singled out two South Indian men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, who were there enjoying happy hour.
“He approached them, asking, ‘Are you here illegally?’” recounts Sunayana Dumala, Kuchibhotla’s wife, in the short film Do We Belong?. “Srinivas being Srinivas, he was polite. He tried to answer, ‘I am here on a work visa.’ But [Purinton] thought that Srinivas was from Iran and he was here illegally. I think that’s why he said, ‘Get out of my country,’ before he shot Srinivas down.”
Kuchibhotla was killed that day. Sofian Khan, a filmmaker, read about his death in the frenzy of media coverage that followed the hate crime. “The story really hit home,” Khan told The Atlantic. “My father came to the US in the ‘80s 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’s positive nature and playful humor also felt very familiar. There was a sense that I somehow knew him.”
Growing up, Khan and his family heard about hate crimes motivated by Islamophobia—regardless of the victims’ religious backgrounds—following the first World Trade Center bombing, the launch of Desert Storm, and in the wake of 9/11. Fortunately, Khan’s family was spared, but the fear never left him. He was moved to contact Dumala and tell her story.
Do We Belong? is an affecting account of a hate crime that resulted in a tragic murder, but it is also the story of another kind of death: that of a dream. “People around the world are starting to get the message that the promise of America as the destination for the best and brightest, the hardest-working or the downtrodden, is becoming a thing of the past,” said Khan.
In the days following her husband’s murder, Dumala wrote a Facebook post. “Many times,” it read, “these issues are talked about for a few weeks, and people tend to forget about them afterward. But the fight must go on towards eradicating hatred from the minds of people. Is this the same country we dreamed of? Do we belong here?”