On February 22, 2017, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian immigrant was shot dead in a racially-motivated shooting in Kansas, USA. Among the many Indian immigrants who were affected by the mindless shooting incidents was Sankar Raman. Pained by the brewing hatred in the US, Sankar wanted to tell stories that sow seeds of empathy, compassion and peace. A day after the shooting, he registered the website ‘The Immigrant Story’.
“The 2016 election cycle was very difficult for immigrants of colour. The election rhetoric was, immigrants are rapists and murderers. But when this young man was murdered in Kansas, I thought to myself, this is getting bad. It wasn’t an election rhetoric anymore. That’s when I decided to start this website,” says Sankar.
Sankar’s hometown is Konerirajapuram in Tamil Nadu. His village is a small, close-knit one with a strong sense of community. After finishing his schooling in Konerirajapuram and High School in Tiruchy, Sankar did his MSc Physics in Chennai. And like many people in the 80s, Sankar moved to America to do his PhD. The Immigrant Story aims to build a counter narrative to the nationalistic one perpetrated by US President Donald Trump. The website tells stories of immigrants and refugees in America. The idea of the website is to document, narrate and curate stories of immigrants in order to enhance empathy and help promote an inclusive community.
“America is a thriving democracy. It’s a place where people like me can go and make a good living. A place where you can achieve the American Dream. Irrespective of what you are, where you come from, you can be successful if you have the skills, and work hard. But this America is being hindered by people like Trump. I wanted to start a website which would create empathy towards immigrants,” he says.
Sankar lives in Portland, Oregon, which, he says, is inclusive and progressive. “But most of us (immigrants) have encountered hate speech. In the 80s, when I moved there, I heard ‘Go home’ so many times. That’s why most of us try to be model citizens. People don’t go to bars, because they are afraid. We don’t go to neighbourhoods that are totally white,” he says.
Sankar believes that the nationalistic, puritan belief is coming back everywhere in the world. He believes that people like Trump cater to the fringe and amplify those voices. Nationalistic groups get emboldened. To counter this narrative, Sankar wants people to know who their community members are.
“The idea is to write stories that will resonate with people. When you hear a person’s story, you can’t hate them. You start to build a personal connection with them. That’s what we’re trying to do. We are trying to create empathy and create a common community. We are all in it together,” he says.
A story is uploaded every week on The Immigrant Story. The website has more than 100 stories, with each one getting 10,000 hits. Sankar wants to make this a media house and hopes to start a museum. “America is a nation of immigrants. People migrate all the time. Human beings are still nomadic. People will soon start migrating because of environmental impact. I want to have a museum to talk about this migration. We have museums for everything, it’s time we had one that speaks about and celebrates human migration. I want it to be a physical place where you can immerse yourself,” shares Sankar.