meeting : "So far from home: A Karenni famiily in America."
02 June 2015.
talk by John Chaimov
last decade, some 75,000 mostly ethnic minority Burmese have been
resettled from the string of United Nations refugee camps along the
border of Thailand and Myanmar to the United States. They come with
hopes for safety, community, new friendships, education, rewarding
careers, upward social mobility, just plain physical mobility, family.
Some of the Burmese newcomers are somewhat able to achieve some of
these goals; most fall short in many of them. In that mixed bag of
modest successes and perpetually deferred dreams lies the story of
many, perhaps most immigrants to America.
My friendship with Bleh
Sie began half a dozen years ago, when I met him and some other members
of his family at the Baan Mae Surin refugee camp a few hours' drive out
of Mae Hong Son. Bleh Sie and his friends asked questions, hard
questions, about the life they could expect to lead in the U.S. As we
sat on the floor of their bamboo hut, I struggled to give them an
honest account of the joys and dangers they might face.
In late 2010
he was resettled to the United States and in 2011 moved with assorted
other family members to my city, where our friendship has continued.
talk pictorially illustrates his life in two worlds as a sort of
animated family photo album and compares his experience as an immigrant
in a place with few other of his ethnic compatriots to the experience
of relatives who settled in Burmese enclaves in the United States. The
narrative below, which was written independent of the family album,
brings to life Bleh Sie's journey to Thailand and to the U.S. as a
person whose itinerant life is both age-old and engagingly new, at once
like that of many others and full of
Chaimov received his doctorate in comparative literature at the
University of Chicago. He chairs the Department of Foreign Languages at
Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA, where he also directs an
interdisciplinary program in international studies. Through the
generosity of the Chiang Mai NGO WEAVE, he visited a Burmese refugee
camp in 2009, and in the intervening years several friends he made
there have come to live near him in Iowa. Together they reminisce, hang
out, travel, fish, and dream.
Want to read more?
(PDF File for downloading or reading on line - 10 pages).