November 14, 2012

Chin: Community In The United States Growing

The UN Refugee Agency reports that the Chin population in the US has nearly doubled in 10 years.

Below is an article published by The Colombus Dispatch:

The plan was to graduate from United Theological Seminary in Dayton and return to Myanmar to spread the word of God. But during a visit to Columbus, Hai Vung Lian was impressed with what he saw. With more research, he discovered that the city — particularly the Far West Side — had a lot to offer his countrymen and women who needed a home: a steady job market and affordable housing near good schools, public transportation and hospitals.

“I thought we could start a community here,” Lian, 47, said of the Chin population, who has fled the southern Asian country of Myanmar, also known as Burma. He encouraged Chin families living in refugee settlements outside Myanmar to start anew in Columbus. What started as a trickle in 2007 has become a steady stream of Chin refugees. Community Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbus has placed 137 Chins since October 2007, Executive Director Angie Plummer said. Another 13 are scheduled to arrive before the end of November.

One problem with resettlement efforts has been the language barrier. Chin has more than 40 dialects, making it difficult for schools and agencies to find interpreters. Ed Kennedy, who coordinates English-as-a-second-language programs for South-Western schools, recalled that the district once needed two interpreters to work with a family — one who spoke English and Burmese and another who understood Burmese and Lai Chin.

Lai Chin is the common tongue for the 61 Chin students enrolled in South-Western. The district’s students speak 63 different languages; Chin is the sixth most common. “The first big struggle we had ... was simply getting access to a dictionary, something that would help us get access to that second language. The district now has two translators — not enough to cover the growing population.” Kennedy said.

Plummer said most of the Chin refugees have come from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The Chin fled their homeland because of abuses by the ruling Myanmar army, which pillaged villages and forced the Chin into hard labor or military service.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, 8,562 refugees from Myanmar were resettled in the United States between January and June this year [2012]. More than 1,300, including the Chin, have been resettled in Ohio since 2008.

The largest community of Myanmar refugees is in Indianapolis. There, 3,909 refugees have been settled after arriving from overseas. Because of others moving within the U.S., the Indianapolis population has grown to about 9,000, about 6,400 of them Chin refugees, said Elaisa Vahnie, the executive director of the Burmese-American Community Institute in Indianapolis. Vahnie said Indianapolis, like Columbus, is a transportation hub where unskilled workers can find warehouse and manufacturing jobs.

Lian has become a patriarch for the Chins here. He helps them find homes near W. Broad Street, which is accessible to manufacturing and warehouse jobs in Hilliard, London and West Jefferson. He serves as a part-time interpreter at South-Western schools and is the pastor of the Emmanuel Chin Baptist Church, which shares space with Ohio State’s University Baptist Church. Word of Columbus’ budding Chin community has started to reach other groups living outside Ohio.

Maung Ling Chai and his family moved to Columbus from Myanmar two years ago. Lian helped him find a job at Birchwood Food Co. in Hilliard and a residence for him, his wife and four kids. On Thursday [8 November 2012], Lian helped translate for him during parent-teacher conferences.

“My children told me that the teachers are so good, very lovely,” Chai said through Lian. “They don’t want to miss school. They want to be here every day. It’s pretty good living in Columbus, and I enjoy my life here.”

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