By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
Following George Floyd’s brutal death, with Black Lives Matter (BLM) taking over the nation’s consciousness, as we united to collectively embrace the guilt of racism, it seemed new dawn of cross-ethnic appreciation and equal justice for all would break across America. Sadly any expectation that the rising black boat will cause brown, yellow, and mixed-race boats to also rise has not come true. If anything, after White bashing by Blacks – metaphorical as well as physical – became permissible and even justifiable under the woke regime, it inevitably opened the door to the bashing of browns, yellows, and those in-between, and vice versa.
Following the recently released recording of the racist comments made by Los Angeles City Council’s three Latino members and a labor union leader, a new brand of racism has been invented. ‘Lite Racism’ which mimics ‘White Racism’ is now being used to define Latinos and people of similar light skin color as ‘Lite Racists’, and as victimizers rather than victims.
The condemnation of LA’s Lite Racists was instant and decisive leading to their resignation. Biden himself jumped in to bring the full weight of his moral authority as president behind the plea asking for the race-baiting offenders to step down.
Alas, only a few days earlier, a dastardly attack, far more lethal than the leaked recorded excerpts of hate speech, had occurred impacting a family of Indian-American ethnicity. Hailing from Punjab, the young Sikh family consisting of those who can truly be described as dreamers had lawfully migrated from India to the US only a year back.
They had arrived here with high hopes and lofty aspirations to join the American cult of success based on this country’s foundational belief that honest hard work pays off, and rewards depend on one’s ability and merit, not on royal favor or governmental patronage.
How did they fare? Or, did they fare at all?
In Northern California, on a grim angry October evening, four dead bodies were found by a farmer. They had been kidnapped two days before and then brutally killed. Never mind that the youngest was an innocent eight-month-old baby girl, her mother still in her 20s, and the baby’s father and uncle still below age 40.
Jesus Manuel Salgado, a 48-year-old former employee at the trucking firm owned by the relatives of the dead, was arrested and, based on his confession, charged with four counts each of murder and kidnapping. Salgado’s brother was arrested shortly thereafter for being an accomplice in the brutal slayings.
The motive was uncomplicated – vendetta. Although who is to say that race did not figure in the killer’s mind? On the surface, the pretext was crystal clear. The killer could not handle being fired by the Indian American-owned Transport Company. For long, the fired worker reportedly had been simmering with rage over his firing and stewing over how to take revenge.
The plot to kill was executed with precision. The two male family members were abducted from their Trucking business venue in Merced County, from where, as seen in the surveillance footage, they were led at gunpoint, with their hands tied behind their backs, to another site.
They were followed later by the wife of one of the kidnapped men, along with their baby daughter both of whom are seen being escorted at gunpoint into a vehicle, which was used to transport all four victims to another site. There they were ruthlessly killed and their bodies casually disposed off in a distant orchard. The vehicle was set on fire in a bid to destroy the evidence but enough of it remained to confirm the chain of events and custody.
Since the killers were caught, the criminal aspect seemed to be quickly resolved, but not the racism and racial hate underpinning the heinous crime. Clearly, the hate factor did not appear to sufficiently move the needle for the FBI, which is known to intervene whenever and as soon as a hate crime occurs. One can safely assume race will remain excluded from the proceedings of this gruesome quadruple murder case.
While candlelight vigils were held to honor the innocent dead, there was no large-scale protest or hysterical mass response to the kidnappings and killings of four Indian Americans. We are simply not powerful enough as an ethnic group and vocal and forceful enough to call out racist conduct against and discriminatory treatment of us.
The preeminence of Black victims over victims of any other ethnicity, to an extent, explains their failure to unite around the racial injustices perpetrated against other ethnicities. While reprehensible, their reluctance to stand up for other historically less tortured ethnic groups is at least understandable.
What hurts far more is our own ethnicity’s mellow response which leaves us wondering how little we actually hurt over and are willing to publicly protest against savagery whenever it is directed at us.
Crimes against Asian Americans as a whole and Indian Americans have recently assumed brutality not seen in earlier decades. Generations of us have immigrated here from Asia and thousands have been brought here as slaves or indentured laborers. Japanese internment and Chinese labor exploitation are widely known and acknowledged but the oppression of the Indian ethnic community remains in the shadows.
Inherently timid, we Indians tend to swallow our pride and set aside our hurt in the interest of getting along, and not rocking the boat. Worse, when moving here, we have brought along the same complexities and divisive biases of caste, region, ‘varna’, and faith which prevented millions of Indians to free themselves from the yoke of a handful – no more than 100,000 – of British traders turned rulers of India.
It was Gandhi who saw that the stepping stone to Swarajya would need to be an empowered self-aware Indian unarmed by weapons, but armed with the mental and physical force to say no to enslavement. That individualized determined force unfortunately we willingly forgo once we get to America’s shores where we happily trade our inner liberty for an externally benign personality that stays away from confrontation of truth and of others.
As the trial of the two killers unfolds, the families and friends of the murdered must live through a long stretch of indefinable pain from the loss of four near and dear ones, and from having to re-live each moment of the tragedy and the horror of the killings again and again until the trial ends and sentencing occurs.
Even then, the four dead will remain alive and kicking in the minds of posterity. They were those who left all behind and staked their all to make America their home.
Dreams are not for the cowardly or the lazy. They show grit. Not of the savage kind that the killers showed.
The dead were the true seekers and pilgrims of today. They expected open arms not armed execution in this golden state and gilded country.
Time is supposed to ease the pain but can never take it away entirely.
When all else fades, the lustrous dark eyes of the murdered innocent baby girl will rock our minds and jolt our collective Indian American conscience to rise against racially targeted injustice not just against blacks but against each and all of us who hail from distant lands and are not privileged to be African Americans to claim paramount status in ethnic victims’ ranking.
Neera Kuckreja Sohoni