Several years ago, after I dropped my eighth grade son at summer school, I saw a house with numerous beautiful sunflowers while I was returning home.
I love to paint. I stopped and took a picture of the sunflowers so I could use it as a reminder and inspiration to paint.
When I returned home, I was greeted with highly visible tension. My sixth grade daughter was visibly shaken. She had answered the phone, and it was the Kennewick Police Department.
Turns out, the owner of the house had called the cops, given them my car license plate number and made some kind of complaint that I was taking pictures of their house.
I had to call back the cops and explain the situation. I clarified that it was just a picture of a sunflower I was interested in. I learned my lesson that day! My brown skin color made me a person who would always be viewed with suspicion by some.
Now I look back and feel grateful that the Kennewick PD officer was willing to listen to me on the phone and did not come knocking at my door. I had to explain that I am a highly educated mother of two children, my husband is a scientist at the national lab, and I am an active school volunteer. I wasn’t upset or angry, but it was something of a surreal experience! Talking to the cops for taking a picture of the sunflower that was close to the sidewalk and curb and not even close to the house!
P.S. I never used that photo to paint and never felt like painting sunflowers again!
Post-postscript, after several years:
Now that I have shared my experience with the larger community and hear the voices of the peaceful protests around the country, I have had a transformational change! I am ready to paint sunflowers 🌻 again!
Rama Devagupta, Ph.D., is a scientist, artist, freelance writer and National Board Certified Teacher. She ran for the Richland School Board Director, Position 5 in 2019. To the best of her knowledge, this was the first time that a female immigrant and POC ran for the Richland School Board. After a successful primary, she earned 45.34% of the vote.
Photo by Becky Winter (Instagram: winpixphotography)