Hate messages scrawled on the diaper changing station in the bathroom at Alexander Park in Belmont. Image credit: Naresh, a Belmont resident who first filed the police complaint.

On Saturday, October 21, Belmont resident Shruti (name changed) received some disturbing images on one of her Whatsapp groups. The images featured anti-Indian hate messages written on the walls of a public restroom located in Alexander Park. Like many local parks in Belmont, Alexander Park is a small, cozy park nestled between homes in a quiet neighborhood on Yorkshire Way. It is a popular spot to socialize and exercise for South Asian families in the neighborhood, like Shruti’s.

The next day, Shruti’s husband Naresh (name changed) went to Alexander Park to see the messages for himself and was shocked at what he saw. “All over the bathroom walls, and even the diaper changing station was anti-Indian writing,” he said.

“Stop Hiring Indian”

The messages accused Indians – specifically H-1B visa holders – of “stealing jobs” in the United States, and urged American employers to “stop hiring Indians at any cost.” Another message suggested that Indians working in the United States selectively hire other Indians, while yet another simply read, “F*** India.”

Naresh took pictures of the messages with his phone and reported the incident to the Belmont Police Department, which is currently investigating the incident with the help of the Belmont Parks and Recreation Department.

“We have no leads at this time but are hoping to make some progress on this case soon,” said Pete Lotti, a Lieutenant with the Belmont Police Department, in an email statement. 

Anti-Indian Sentiment in the Bay Area?

The messages specifically targeted Indian professionals working in the United States and singled out Indian H-1B visa holders. In the United States, more Indians receive this category of work visa than any other nationality; in FY 2022, individuals born in India accounted for 72.6% of the H-1B petitions approved by the United States. This month, the government proposed changes to the H-1B visa program that would increase its efficiency, mitigate instances of fraud, and make the application process simpler for skilled foreign nationals and their U.S.-based employers.  

Many of the Indian H-1B visa holders work in the tech industry and make their home in Silicon Valley, as is borne out by the population statistics of California. According to 2020 census data, the Indian community in California grew 53% between 2010 and 2020. Belmont is part of San Mateo County which reported an even greater increase of 72%. An increased presence of employed Indian professionals in the region, coupled with a period of slowdown and mass layoffs in the tech industry might have fuelled the anti-Indian sentiment that underpins this incident.

The Belmont Police Department seems to think this is an isolated incident but is coordinating with other police agencies in San Mateo County to investigate if there have been any other reports of similar incidents. 

A safe space no more

Alexander Park has been a beloved neighborhood park serving as an important community space for South Asian families living close by. Image credit: Snigdha Sen.

While the case is being investigated, our reporter visited the park and found the restroom open and unlocked. The walls looked freshly painted over, and all the surfaces were clear of any writing. However, the use of hateful language specifically targeting Indian immigrants has shaken the Indian community living in the vicinity of Alexander Park.

The hate messages have been cleaned and painted over as of Monday, October 23. Image credit: Snigdha Sen.

For Shruti, the park was a space where she could spend quality time with her children, a place where she felt completely safe. “Now we are seriously thinking about whether the park is safe or not,” she said. This is also the first time that she or Naresh have come across an act of anti-Indian hate. “The first step is writing, what is the next step?”

If you or someone you know has any information about this case or potential suspects, please call the Belmont Police Department Crime Tip Line at 650.598.3000. Callers can remain anonymous.

This is a developing story. 

This series was made possible in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program.

Tanay Gokhale is a Community Reporter at India Currents through the California Local News Fellowship cohort of 2023. Born and raised in Nashik, India, he moved to the United States for graduate study in...

Snigdha Sen is Contributing Editor at India Currents and Co-Founder & Head of Content of video strategy startup, UpendNow.com. She holds a Master of Journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism...