Sidarth, 21, is a senior at the University of Virginia, a double major in engineering and government. He spent the past few summers doing campaign grunt work, and 2006 was no different. He worked for James Webb's Senate campaign, tracking Webb's opponent, Virginia Senator George Allen, which means he videotaped Allen's public appearances. On Aug. 11, the tracker became the tracked. Allen singled him out in the crowd with a long, rambling riff. "This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent," Allen said. And later: "So welcome, let's give a welcome to Macaca here! Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!" The clip is on YouTube. One copy has been played more than 320,000 times.
It's ironic that Allen would welcome Sidarth to Virginia, since Sidarth has lived there his whole life and Allen grew up in California. It's also odd because until then, Allen and his staff had been nothing but friendly. "There's no way he didn't know who I was," Sidarth says. "He'd never addressed me before, and then to do so in this context—it was humiliating. That it was in a racial context made it worse." The crowd cheered, but Sidarth believes it was only because they had to. "It was an unfair indictment by Allen of the people there," Sidarth says. "They would have applauded no matter what he said." Later, some audience members went over to Sidarth to apologize.
It was definitely not Sidarth's idea to put the clip on YouTube. "Getting drawn out into the limelight was really surprising," he says, and he means it. He's an intensely private person, and he declined to answer quite a few of the questions put to him by TIME. He's focused on keeping his head down and getting into law school. "Ultimately I'd hope people wouldn't pay as much attention to things like this, instead caring more about who can serve the country or the state better," he says. "Of course," he adds, "character plays into that. And this event reflected on Allen's character."
Reported by Jeremy Caplan and Kathleen Kingsbury/New York, Susan Jakes/Beijing, Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles, Grant Rosenberg/Paris and Bryan Walsh/Seoul