Author’s note: This is one of the chapters from a new novel I am writing. The novel will be called The Soldier Dog. In the last chapter there was a shooting at a concert where Arjun was performing. In this chapter he writes an open letter to the shooter.
“Arjun, do you want to write something for the next Rebel?” David, the editor of our school paper asked me. He and everyone in the school knew, by now, that I was the target of the shooter on the Valentine’s Day celebration.
“Of course,” I replied.
I am a part of the editorial team of the Fairfax Rebel. I normally write reviews of sports, movies, and books. It has been two weeks since the shooting. The local TV stations and the Washington Post have been running stories about the shooter. They have identified him as a white Caucasian living in Woodbridge. Due to the laws related to juvenile crimes, his full name, address and profile cannot be identified. I don’t know yet what has to happen to him, but I had an inner calling to write something about it. The incident was so unexpected and bizarre that it needed to be addressed. I thought about it for a while and composed the following.
I know that your name is Bobby, and you live in Woodbridge. According to published reports your action was not gang related and that your father has a home improvement business. Apparently you do not have a previous criminal record. However, the seriousness of what you did may require that you be tried as an adult.
What happens to you is not in my control. You somehow felt compelled to show your hatred and animosity towards someone who didn’t look like you. You disturbed a peaceful and happy event with your show of ignorance and dangerous behavior. It was pure bigotry. You could have taken an innocent life. We are fortunate you didn’t. Would it have made you happy if you had killed someone?
You saw a brown colored boy performing on the main stage and you thought he did not belong there. The fact that you targeted me as a Muslim showed your ignorance of the world we live in. I am brown, and a Hindu, not a Muslim. It doesn’t matter what my religion is. It matters that I am an integral part of your environment, and I want you to know that I am, first of all an American.
Yes. I am a born American. My parents came to this country from India, twenty-five years ago to seek a better life. I was born at the Fair Oaks hospital, probably the same as you did. I grew up, just as you probably did, watching Big Bird, Miss Piggy, Ernie and Bert and the Cookie Monster, and how about Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and maybe Scooby Doo? Yes, we liked those shows and learned something about friendship, and comradery.
May parents enrolled me in little league soccer, baseball and basketball even though they didn’t know much about these sports. They wanted and still want to preserve their culture in a foreign land. We have at times conflicts in our outlooks. But they never would instill in me feelings of hatred towards other humans. They have high aspirations for me, yes, about what I should do and what is good for me. But that is only from a point of view of excelling at studies and selecting the right profession. That’s where their thinking may differ from mine.
What do your parents want you to be? May I ask? Get rid of the competition from those who don’t look like you by driving them out of the country. Where does that leave you? You still need to be good at what you do. You still need to study and acquire knowledge and a skill. So why are you afraid of those who are not like you? I hope your parents don’t have a mentality such as yours. But maybe I am wrong. Children mostly emulate their elders. If that is the case then we really have a bad situation.
What did you do growing up, besides watching the shows I mentioned above? Did you excel or try to be better in sports, music, the arts or science? Do you read books? Or did you just go to the shooting range hoping to be an expert marksman? There is nothing wrong in being a marksman, if all you want is to be a good hunter.
As I said before, I am a born American and proud to be so. The Post reports that you were a visitor to our party. I believe that, because if you were a part of our student body, you would have known me. I was the one who hit the walk off home run against Oakton last spring. It was a crucial win and I was proud I made a contribution. Are you a participant in sports or just a spectator? If you did everything I did growing up here in America, then, tell me, what separates me from you, other than the color of our skins?
I can sing the National Anthem and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Can you? With pride?
I write this and then put it aside for a few days. I am not sure how it will be taken by the general student body, our teachers and our parents. Did I go too far? Will other parents hate me for saying what’s on my “brown” mind? I don’t think so and I really shouldn’t care. This is after all a free country, isn’t it? I think it will at least generate dialogue and discussion. Perhaps our social studies teacher will take it as a discussion point.
I send it to David and he decides to publish it. I don’t show it to my dad or mom. They are already shook up by the incident and this would make them more nervous.
I can imagine my dad saying, “Arjun, don’t unnecessarily ruffle the feathers. We are still a minority in a foreign country. It is good not to be in the limelight. You never know what those in power can do.”
“Then why did you become a citizen of this FREE country?” I might have said.