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Hate crime widow Dumala to look for ‘positive’ Trump in State of Union address

Slain Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s widow Sunayana Dumala believes her presence at the State of the Union address will “shine a national spotlight” on the message of inclusivity.

world Updated: Jan 30, 2018 23:29 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Srinivas Kuchibhotla,Sunayana Dumala,Kansas shooting
File photo of Sunayana Dumala talking about her late husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, at a news conference at the Garmin headquarters in Olathe, Kansas City, in February 2017.(AP)

When President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday night, Sunayana Dumala, an Indianwho will be in the visitors’ gallery, says she will be hoping to hear a speech that is both “positive and welcoming to all”.

Dumala’s husband, infotech engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was killed in Olathe, Kansas, on February 22, 2017 in a hate crime that Trump had condemned in the opening minutes of his first joint address to Congress (which was technically not a State of the Union address despite the same stage props).

“I am hoping it (the speech) to be positive and welcoming to all from different walks of life,” Dumala, 33, said in an email interview. She is attending the speech as a guest of Kevin Yoder, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from her district.

But that’s not why Dumala accepted Yoder’s invitation, which she acknowledged was in line with his efforts to “spread a positive message of unity and friendship to the immigrant community - that all of us are welcomed here in America to live our dreams”.

Kuchibhotla, 32, was killed and his colleague, also an Indian, sustained bullet injuries when a white man, Adam Purinton, opened fire in a crowded suburban bar. Purinton thought they were Middle Easterners and was heard telling them to “get out of my country” at the time of the shooting.

Dumala believes her presence at the State of the Union address will “shine a national spotlight” on the message of inclusivity, welcoming and accepting immigrants. She didn’t mention it but it certainly drew from her personal experience and her husband’s.

They both separately came to the US as students. They met online, fell in love and married, with their parents’ consent, in a traditional ceremony in their hometown of Hyderabad, surrounded by friends and family.

“I would like to use the opportunity to reiterate my message of spreading love, and about diversity and inclusion, with a belief that love and empathy will prevail. It is a rare opportunity and honour to receive,” Dumala said.

She added, “Being there would also give me an opportunity to honour my beloved Srinu (her nickname for Kuchibhotla) and continue his legacy.”

With the help of her employer, Intouch Solutions, a pharmaceutical marketing firm, Dumala launched a Facebook page in January, called Forever Welcome, which seeks to help immigrants stay in the US and assimilate. “By sharing stories from the immigrant community through social media, Forever Welcome raises awareness of their contributions to our society and assures them that they are ‘forever welcome’ here in the US,” she said.

“Forever Welcome emphasises that there is no ‘you’ or ‘me’ when it comes to living in the US. We are all welcome here regardless of where we were born. We all belong.”

Trump is expected to address the issue of immigration in some of its recent manifestations in his maiden State of the Union address, traditionally a statement of intent and purpose by the administration similar.

He is likely to speak about, for instance, the 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, also called Dreamers and beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era regulation that protected them from deportation.

Trump could reiterate his offer of citizenship for them — and a number two times more than cited usually — under an immigration deal he and the Republicans have been pushing, in return for a wall along the border with Mexico, more border security, an end to family-based immigration and a visa lottery system that seeks to encourage immigrants from under-represented countries.

Immigration, trade — with all its complex implications — and national security are among the hot-button issues Trump is expected to touch in a speech he has been working on with his aides for days, according to some news reports.

Dumala will be listening from the visitors’ gallery, and Trump’s remarks on immigration will be personally relevant and important. “I have been recently approved my H-1B status which brings a lot of relief to myself and my family,” she wrote in response to a question.

But is Dumala likely to find an answer to a question she had asked just days after the tragic event that would change her life? “Do we belong?” she had asked at a memorial service organised for her husband by his employer, Garmin, a GPS major where Kuchibhotla had been a treasured engineer.

First Published: Jan 30, 2018 19:01 IST