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MEETINGS 2013-2015

392nd meeting :   "So far from home:  A Karenni famiily in America."

Tuesday 02 June     2015.

A talk by John Chaimov

The Talk:
Over the 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.
The 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

The Speaker:       
John 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? ....click "HERE" (PDF File for downloading or reading on line - 10 pages).



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