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Interview with Hasanthika “Hasie” Sirisena as part of the Nash County Cultural Center Oral History Project in which she discusses her Sri Lankan heritage, addresses issues of racism and classism, and speaks about the difficulties facing immigrants, particularly those of color, when searching for an authentic identity in America. Sirisena describes the arranged marriage of her parents, says the were from very different classes: her mother from an anglicized family who lived in an affluent area of Panadura; her father from a poverty-stricken area of Colombo. She says her father became a doctor, moved the family to England for 5 years, before moving to Goldsboro, NC, and later to Rocky Mount, NC. Sirisena reflects on attending Rocky Mount Academy, pointing out that she was the only non-white student in the school at the time. She speaks about a classmate’s father who was open about being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and of allegations the school was built as a way for white parents to circumvent sending their children to integrated schools. She mentions that white students were tolerant of her due to her intelligence and coming from a middle-class family. Says while she was never the victim of racist incidents, the underlying feeling was always present, causing her to feel like she didn’t fit it. Sirisena further expands on these issues during her time in high school; describing a Black friend who had similar experiences. She speaks about growing up within an area with no other Sri Lanka families nearby, and the lack of Asian representation on TV and in magazines at the time. Sirisena says she attended UNC-Chapel Hill and art school in Chicago, where she received degrees in visual art and philosophy. She then received her Master’s in Education from NYU. She speaks on living in a predominately Indian neighborhood in Astoria, New York; working as a fundraiser for the arts for museums in NYC. She describes working for The Arts Center in one of the most ethnically diverse areas in America; connecting with people from various background who have had similar difficulties finding their place in American culture. She speaks on the complications facing people of color who speak critically of their own race, and talks about Black immigrants not necessarily being able to connect to the culture of Black people born and raised in America. Sirisena points out the media’s tendency to focus on isolated racist attacks rather than on the bigger, underlying issues; says violent incidents will continue to happen until a real conversation is had which addresses the widespread anger throughout American culture. She discusses dating and the difficulty in finding partners who have had relatable experiences. Sirisena speaks about religion, says her parents are Buddhists; describes herself as a Christian who converted at the age of 23. Says upon coming to America as a child, she was sent to a Southern Baptist Elementary School which taught directly from the Bible. She says she attends a predominately white church which struggles with race. Sirisena points out the frequency of Christian churches to cater to people of specific races or heritages; says the church is the one place that division of race and class should not exist.

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