Fairfax Native Says Allen's Words Stung
Friday, August 25, 2006
S.R. Sidarth had built an impressive record of achievements for such a young man: straight-A student at one of Fairfax County's finest high schools, a tournament chess player, a quiz team captain, a sportswriter at his college newspaper, a Capitol Hill intern and an active member of the Hindu temple his parents helped establish in Maryland.
But for all his achievements, the moment that thrust him into the national spotlight this month came when Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) called him "macaca."
The remark stung the young man of Indian descent. What hurt more, Sidarth said, was when Allen gave him a sarcastic welcome to his own country, his birthplace even. It was too ironic, he thought. "I was born and raised in Fairfax County, and he's from California," said S.R. Sidarth, wearing khaki shorts, a yellow short-sleeve shirt and flip-flops a week after the incident during an interview at the campaign headquarters of Allen's opponent, Democrat James Webb.
The full name of the suddenly famous 20-year-old is Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth. Following Indian custom, he goes by his surname. To some of his friends, he is simply "Sid."
He returned this week to the University of Virginia, where he is a senior majoring in American government and computer engineering.
Before college, Sidarth lived a somewhat typical, but distinguished, Fairfax County life. He attended the elite Thomas Jefferson High School, where he had a 4.1 grade-point average and scored 1550 on his SATs. He was a member of the chess club and the Spanish Honor Society and participated in the quiz show "It's Academic." At 6 feet 4 inches tall, he also played defensive end, tight end, punter and kicker for the school's football team.
Sidarth was ambivalent about his sudden celebrity. He twiddled a pen as he talked about his life, at times barely raising his eyes from the office desk where he was sitting. "I was just doing my job, and I got sort of pulled into this," he said.
Sidarth said the Allen incident hasn't turned him off from politics, though he's ruled out becoming a politician himself. Right now he thinks it's more likely that he'll become an environmental lawyer.
Growing up, Sidarth was consumed by chess, testing his mettle against computers and in tournaments. As an 11-year-old, he paid attention when IBM's Deep Blue computer defeated Russian chess master Garry Kasparov in a legendary showdown between man and machine.
"I guess I was pretty introverted. I guess being an only child was part of that. I was on the computer a lot," Sidarth said.
At U-Va., he joined the Quizbowl team and the Cavalier Daily. He also worked part time at the library and spent a term in Barcelona last fall, studying Spanish law and politics.
The Webb campaign wasn't Sidarth's first venture into politics. In 2003, he contributed $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), according to campaign finance records. The next summer, he was an intern in Lieberman's office.