Archive for October, 2009

Teen refugee flees and flourishes

Posted in burmese, documentary, muslim, refugee with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2009 by yearningtobreathefree

The free Flash Player is required to play the video above.                             For those unable to view the video, a transcription appears below.

Daung Nwe Aye is a 16-year-old Burmese refugee who was born in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border after her parents fled Burma and its oppressive military rulers. Daung was three years old when her mother and father and their two children were granted admission to the United States. They settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Daung with Dad and Mom

Daung with her parents and a harvest from their garden.

Technically a second generation refugee/immigrant, Daung shows in this 11-minute video interview how quickly a refugee can assimilate into a new culture, including picking up “teen speak.” She talks about her family and friends, the importance of her Muslim faith, how she finds high school in America as a non-native-born citizen, about her home countries, and she tells of her aspirations. She wants to become an OBGYN physician, and we think she will achieve that. And much more.

The transcript of John Gevers’ interview with Daung Nwe Aye follows:

DNA: (My name is) Daung New Aye [do ang •  n’way • ee].

JG: And how do you spell that? (See above.)

DNA: I’m sixteen.

JG: How old were you when you came to the United States?

DNA: When I came here, I was three-and-a-half. I was born in Thailand, and, um, I lived in a camp for a little while. Currently, I’m attending school to get my diploma so I could go to college and go to med school. I want to become an OBGYN (physician). I love children, and I want to, like, help them  — help woman and help childrens come into the world.

JG: And where do you go to high school here in Fort Wayne?

DNA: I go to Northrop High School. I like it a lot. My best friends are, like, um, Vietnamese and there’s Malaysian and I have a lot of Burmese friends.

In the United States, we have the right of freedom of speech and religion. I’m a Muslim which means my religion is Islam, and, like, I really care about my religion. Like, I don’t wear a hijab (head covering) and I don’t pray five times a day, but, like, I remember who I am and, like, I still have dignity about myself, you know?

It’s Ramadan right now, and I’m fasting; I try to fast every day. I wake up before the sun comes up and I eat and drink water so I stay hydrated during the day, and then, um, (when) I have to stop my fast, I say this prayer. And then, so like, for the rest of the day I can’t eat or drink or, like, it’s even bad to fight with my little brother or fight with anyone, you know, it’s not good. I can eat when the sun goes down.

JG: Let me make sure I understand, so: You wake up before the sun comes up and you can eat a little bit and drink at that time?

DNA: Yes.

JG: And then the sun comes up and then no food and you try to be good and not argue or what have you for the whole day. And then when the sun goes down, you can have a regular meal again?

DNA: Yes.

JG: Okay. And how often do you do that during Ramadan?

DNA: Um, for all thirty days or, like, as many days as you can.

JG: Okay, and I’ve heard there are parties at Franke Park during this time?

DNA: (chuckling) Parties?

JG: Yeah, have you heard of those?

DNA: (still chuckling) Yes. Those days are the best because it’s the end of the month, and there’s like a feast and all the Muslims, well almost all the Muslims, um, gather at that place and we all pray and then we all eat. And all the kids have new clothes and so do the adults. And, like, the little kids – if you go around and say, “Salaam — — Ead,”  the adults will give you a treat or, like, a few dollars because you were good.

JG: You’re living in Indiana. Do you like it here?

DNA: I like Indiana because it’s, like, a very good place for families to grow up and live, but I also like to, like, go to New York City and to the beach and places like that.

JG: It’s a really Christian area (Indiana). The majority of people are Christian. Does that cause you any problems or do you find that people let you live just like you let them live?

DNA: I can live like I live, like, sometimes in school, like there are kids who, like, are biased or racist, and they’ll say things like, “Ha! You’re a terrorist” or, you know, “You’re Asian!” And so, like, sometimes it hurts me, but I just forget about it cause I still know who I am and, like, I shouldn’t – I know better than to let their words hurt me.

JG: Have you always felt that way or has it become easier as you’ve gotten older?

DNA: It’s become easier as I got older.

With my rights as living in the United States I’ve got freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to live how I want to, and the people, they can come here and they can live how they want to. The new people (refugees and immigrants) they can go out and go to school, have an education if they try hard, but, I think, for the people that’s already living in the United States, it’s for them to make the new people feel welcome and feel like – even if you don’t like them, like don’t say mean things to their faces or like snicker at them when they walk by.

JG: Do you have any desire to go back to Thailand or to Burma to visit?

DNA: Yes.

JG: Do you?

DNA: I really want to go to Thailand and Burma. I want to, like, visit all the cities, like, even the countryside, the cities. Especially like the places I lived in and the places my parents met and where they lived in.

JG: What do you think about all that’s going on in Burma right now?

DNA: I think it’s . . . I don’t know what to do, like . . . . I think it’s really bad and I wish . . . I wish that even if it’s not like in this generation, in the future generations – even if my parents don’t get to see it – that Burma becomes free and, like, the people that ran away, the students, they could go back in Burma and not be shot or arrested.

I volunteer a lot and my parents, um, both of my parents are in the Committee of the Burmese Muslim community. So, like, if there’s an event going on, I’ll go and, um, I’ll go help and interpret. English is really easy for me.

JG: Do you have any ideas as a young person as you are, when you see the new refugees from Burma coming to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and you see them in their apartments – I’m sure you’ve visited them – do you have any ideas of how our society could help them more than we already are?

DNA: Our society could help them more by helping them learn English, and we are; it’s just giving them reasons why to learn. Many of them understand that, like, it’s very important to learn English, to pay your bills – the electricity bill, the water bill, everything – and then, if you want to work, you have to learn how to speak English so, like you could pay for all that.

JG: So trying to get them to know the importance of the language is one thing. Is there anything else?

DNA: Many kids that grew up here – even the Burmese kids – are very different from the new . . . the new kids.

JG’S NOTE: As you’ll hear her explain in a moment, Doang tries not to refer to recently arrived refugees as “refugees.” She prefers “new kids” or “newcomers.”

DNA: Like some of the girls here, they just stay home and clean and they can’t leave the house unless it’s to go shopping and – like grocery shopping – not to hang out with friends that much. And, like, I don’t want to influence them in a bad way, but I want to, like, just hang out with them, and, like, to see what it’s like to, like, be with other people, other races. Because when you like . . . it’s just like going back to kindergarten: it doesn’t matter about what race you are or, like, how old you are, where you came from, because you just meet someone and you act like you’re best friend.

JG: And why aren’t the girls that are coming over with the families recently from Burma . . . why aren’t they allowed to go out very much?

DNA: I’m guessing it’s because where they lived back in Thailand (in the refugee camps), it was like that. Like, girls didn’t get to do . . . girls didn’t get to have as much freedom as the boys did.

JG: Is that tradition?

DNA: Yeah, that is tradition.

JG: Is that heavily influenced by the Islamic faith, do you think? Or would that be even in the Buddhist families? Do you have any idea?

DNA: Yeah, Buddhist and Islamic faiths.

I try not to call the refugees, like “refugees” because I’m afraid, like, especially in front of them, I don’t want them to feel like they’re lower than me. Or like somebody will ask me, “How long have you lived in the United States?” (I reply,) “Oh, I’ve been here since I was three – eleven, ten years.” And they’re like, “Oh, really? You must know a lot of English; we don’t know anything.” I don’t want them to feel like they can’t learn and they can’t try hard to fit in here.

JG: And do you think that by calling them “refugee” it puts them in a different, ah, class, different category?

DNA: Yes.

JG: I see. And do you think that my calling somebody a refugee does the same thing or is it because you’re also Burmese and . . .

DNA: I’m a refugee myself and I fled Thailand and Burma with my parents.

JG: What would you say to an American, a native-born American, who doesn’t think that refugees and other immigrants should keep coming to the United States?

DNA: Like even though the refugees come here and they have to live off food stamps and cash money (assistance) for a while, they don’t get as much money to . . . some people only get $48 a month for, like, a family of six people, but over there it’s even worse. They don’t get to eat meat or the vegetations. Some people are really malnourished over there and they’re punished. Even in Thailand, I think they’re like discriminated (against), too., because the people from Burma came into Thailand, and they’re kind of illegal.

JG: Are you happy here?

DNA: I’m happy here. I get to live in a nice house and my parents care about me. They care about, um, my brother’s and my education a lot. Like, they don’t want to see us – well, I don’t think any parents want to see their kids fail or be bad, but I’m like really thankful that my parents work really hard for us to live like this.

JG: What about the rest of your life? Do you allow yourself to think ahead and think what you want?

DNA: Yeah, I always think about what I want. Um, I think about . . . I can see myself, um, coming to visit my parents all the time. Um, like always seeing my family on the weekends. Um, I plan on getting married with my parents approval when I’m older, like when I’m able to have a good life, and financially stable to have a family.

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