‘Why would anybody do this?’ Immigrants unsettled by Tri-City incidents

Chuck Eaton of Richland picks up a “Hate has no home here” sign from Ellen McBriarty of the Love, Not Hate Tri-Cities group at the Richland Public Library on Thursday evening.
Chuck Eaton of Richland picks up a “Hate has no home here” sign from Ellen McBriarty of the Love, Not Hate Tri-Cities group at the Richland Public Library on Thursday evening. Special to the Herald

A Richland couple came home from dinner a few weeks ago to an unpleasant surprise on their doorstep.

It was a diaper, with a bizarre note inside.

The note didn’t include a direct threat, but it contained phrases like “You are under attack” and “Watch yourself,” and it left the couple feeling frightened.

They’re of Indian descent and practice the Sikh faith.

The incident came in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of an Indian immigrant at a Kansas bar, as well as the wounding of a Sikh man in a shooting in Kent — both apparent hate crimes.

“Those things bothered us,” and the diaper and note were strange and upsetting, the husband said.

“I’ve never had any bad interaction with any of my neighbors. I was very surprised. Why would anybody do this?” he said.

He didn’t want to be named because of safety concerns.

Tri-City area law enforcement agencies say they haven’t seen a spike in racially or religiously motivated crimes. Most said they haven’t seen any such crimes reported at all.

But hate crimes are on the rise nationwide, according to a study by the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

The number of hate groups is too, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Mood changed with presidential election

The husband, an engineer originally from India but who has lived and worked in the U.S. for several years, said he’s never felt unsettled here before.

But then came the presidential election, the note on his doorstep. He’s also heard of other local incidents — a harassing note left on a car, harassing comments.

He put security cameras up around his home, and he and his wife have been skipping walks around the neighborhood with their newborn, he said.

Another Indian immigrant said he was yelled at while out for coffee a few months ago.

The man, a professional who asked not to be named because of safety concerns, said he and a friend heard a woman shouting.

“At first we thought she was shouting at someone else. Then we realized she was shouting at us. She was mostly shouting the F word,” the man recalled. “She said, ‘You people come here and steal our jobs.’ We felt uncomfortable. I told my friend, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

The woman continued yelling at them as they walked to the car, the man said.

He’s lived in the Tri-Cities for several years and hasn’t had other similar experiences. He’s found the Tri-Cities to be a nice place with caring people, he said.

But with what’s going on nationally, “I do feel a little bit uncomfortable,” he said.

More than anything, he thinks of his children. He hopes they never face issues because of their race or background.

“I am more worried about my kids than me. If they got bullied in school — I have to keep an eye on my kids. So far everything is great. No issues,” he said, although it’s in the back of his mind.

‘Take every opportunity to reach out’

The group Love Not Hate Tri-Cities is working to ensure immigrants and other potentially marginalized groups feel safe and accepted.

Formed after the November election, members of the nonpartisan group have done everything from distribute yard signs with the message “Hate has no home here,” to organize diversity events, lobby for adoption of diversity/inclusion statements at the city level, and promote an open house at the Islamic Center of Tri-Cities — an event that ultimately drew hundreds.

Amy Boaro, an administrator of the group, said the hope is to bridge some of the chasm that’s deepened in the county.

“I feel like a lot of what we’ve done over the last few years is shout at each other across divides,” she said. “Part of that has been exacerbated by the Internet. I think about how, if we were talking face to face, we wouldn’t be shouting at each other, we’d be looking in each other’s eyes and understanding each other’s emotions on a deeper level. I kind of feel like we need to get back to that.”

Nancy Washton, a member of the group, said taking action toward inclusion can be as simple as offering a friendly smile.

“Take every opportunity to reach out. Everybody in the community can do that, it costs nothing,” she said.

For Gabriel Portugal, a leader in the local Latino community, reaching the younger generations is critical. Anti-immigrant sentiment, racism — it exists, he said.

“The message should be that of learning,” Portugal said. “If we say to our kids, ‘son, daughter, you are better than no one and no one is better than you,’ that provides room for learning.”

‘You have to take precautions’

Like the local engineer who got the disturbing note, Tarlok Singh Hundal of Richland is a native of India and part of the Sikh faith.

He’s lived in the Tri-Cities for about 40 years and said he’s never had any problems.

The shootings in Kansas and Kent were frightening and the diaper incident was unfortunate, he said. He hopes the latter was a prank and nothing more serious.

“You have to take precautions, though. You watch your surroundings” and reach out to neighbors, he said.

The local Sikh community has a temple in Pasco. Services are open and Hundal encourages those interested in learning about the faith to stop by.

“Our temple doors are open to every person. Everybody can come in there and enjoy the service,” he said.

The Richland engineer said he never had any problems before a few weeks ago. After he shared online about the diaper and note, he learned that a friend’s car had been hit with tomato sauce while parked at his house a few days before the doorstep surprise. He reported both to police.

The man has reached out to his neighbors and also to the homeowners association, which has been responsive, he said.

He and his wife are going about their lives, with some extra precaution. They are set to welcome his parents on a visit from India soon.

They like to take walks, but “I’m probably going to tell them not to go on a walk, at least for a few days,” he said. “Just to walk in the backyard.”

To learn more about Love Not Hate Tri-Cities, find the group on Facebook.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald