Chaminda “Chip” Rupasingh is a Charlotte, North Carolina, textile distributor and fabricator whose parents brought him to the area in the 1980s to escape the Sri Lankan civil war. As a teenager, he struggled to find his identity as his parents worked odd jobs driving taxis, cleaning motel rooms, or working in auto repair. It was his interest in cars that inspired him to pursue degrees in chemical engineering at Georgia Tech in the early 1990s, eventually earning his PhD and returning to Charlotte to found Queen City Auto Interiors in 2000.
Despite a thoroughly American education and what he considers “full immersion” in the American lifestyle, Dr. Rupasingh still feels he cannot escape bigotry and persecution for expressions of his native Theravada Buddhist faith. His personal car, a 1998 Volkswagen Jetta VR6, was one of his first test vehicles for his interior creations and it proudly wears an ancient Indian swastika embroidered into the leather seatbacks. He keeps the car – and the custom seatbacks – as a reminder that he should remain humble and continue to work hard towards his goals.
“For many years around Charlotte, I have gotten many many compliments on my work. Sometimes it’s a thumbs up or a wink from someone walking by, other times people want to stop and talk with me about making America great again. I agree – we need more support for small businesspeople and to encourage people to go into the STEM fields like I did.”
Dr. Rupasingh even claims he’s turned down requests to speak at various rallies across the state and the region, insisting that his schedule is too full to branch out into motivational speaking right now. “Most of my free time, I spend in my lab, working on new adhesives or polymers that I can test market through my shop, eventually licensing them to companies like 3M or PPG,” he counters. “When KKK sent me a request letter, I explained to them I was not in the turbocharging business, but I was still very flattered.”
Although the local reception has been positive, on a recent trip to an industry trade show in Madison, Wisconsin, Dr. Rupasingh left the exhibition hall on the first day to find his car severely vandalized. The paint had been scratched on all sides, with hateful messages written around the car. “They even mocked me by scratching my beloved swastika backwards into the hood and told me to ‘go back to redneckville’.”
Dr. Rupasingh insists he will never return to Sri Lanka, since his memories there as a child are almost all filled with sadness and violence at the hands of Tamil militants. “Everyone in my family has since moved away, to places like North Carolina, Florida, London, and around the world.”
Upon returning home to Charlotte, Dr. Rupasingh took his Jetta to the body shop of a close friend, fellow Sri Lankan Ranjith Prasad. As they discussed the paintwork, the discussion turned to the larger problem of intolerance in America.
“For over a thousand years, our people have suffered — at the hands of Muslim bandits, British imperialists, and then Sri Lankan separatists,” he laments. “Displaying symbols of your heritage are supposed to be a protected right in this country. I would never have expected this kind of intolerance in America,” adding “Maybe when that sketchy Muslim guy was president, but not with Trump. I honestly believed the swastika was safe again.”