By Sherri Coner
As hundreds of smiling Chin refugees recently celebrated the 75th annual Chin National Day at Chin Evangelical Church Life Center in Indianapolis, Senator Todd Young smiled at the crowd.
“I am continuously amazed by your love for one another and for your culture,” Young said of these families from the mountainous areas of Burma, northeast India and small areas of Bangladesh.
“So many of you are a reflection of the decades-long struggles in Myanmar,” Senator Young said of thousands who were tortured and imprisoned for practicing Christianity. “Indiana has the largest population of refugees.”
Since 1962, at least 70,000 refugees have fled Burma to escape religious persecution and military dictatorship. Since 2000, more than 20,000 refugees have settled in Central Indiana.
When Mariam Ling became the first Burmese American teacher in Perry Township four years ago, it was a welcome realization that many of the displaced refugees were making Indiana their new home.
Wearing traditional clothing, attendees enjoyed a spread of traditional food and cheered when traditional dances were performed on the large stage. When prayers were said and songs in their native tongue were sung, several refugees wiped tears from their faces.
Each year, Mary Hoih, 12, who attends Perry Meridian Sixth Grade Academy and Jenny Sui, 10, a student at Bradley Elementary School in Illinois, said they look forward to Chin National Day.
“It is important to take pride in our culture,” Sui said with a smile. “My favorite part of the day is the fashion show.”
Every year, Saw Fraim, 16, said he and his family attend this all-day celebration fueled by pride in their culture and hope for a brighter future. This 16-year-old junior at Perry Meridian High School stated that he was 6 years old when his family arrived in the United States.
A decade later, adjustments can still be overwhelming for his parents.
“My mom still has trouble with the language,” Fraim said. “Opening a bank account and things like that, it is hard for her to ask for help, hard for her to understand all the language.”
Two of Fraim’s friends, Van Za Hu, 17, a Southport High School senior, and Bryan Cin, 16, also a junior at Perry Meridian High School, agreed that adjusting to such a different life, mastering the English language and also financially managing has been a challenge for many Chin families.
Of the three teens, Cin is the only one born on American soil.
“My family went back to the Zephai village to visit,” Cin said. “There is a lot of poverty. The Chin people don’t have clothes. Everything is muddy and dirty. There is no grass.”
Visiting Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar, formerly Burma, was deceiving, Cin said.
“It was modern but dirty.”
Like Cin, Fraim and Hu also returned with their parents to visit Burma, where Chin people left behind must carry buckets of water from the river because homes have no plumbing and toilets are public. The basic structure of homes in the villages is also unstable.
“My mom and dad wanted me to see where they come from,” Fraim said. “So I am always thankful for what we have here.”