A home away from home: America’s largest Myanmar community

The United States has a number of large Myanmar communities, spread right across the country. But curiously, the largest Myanmar population is based in Fort Wayne, in the US state of Indiana.

It is grown from a handful of people in the early 1990s to several thousand people today.
Supermarkets have also sprung up to cater to the diverse population, with Asian shops dotted around the city, but with American prices.

“We have a lot of customers, a lot of Myanmar customers,” Thwang Lian, owner of the Little Burma Asian Grocery. “And a little bit of other Asians, from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand. We have a lot of customers.”

Thwang Lian has lived here for eight years. The State of Indiana is known as the “Crossroads of America” and Fort Wayne emphasizes the point as the epitome of small-town America sits right across the street from Asia influences.

The south and east of the city have a growing community of people from Myanmar, with some attracted by the lower cost of living and employment opportunities which are better in Fort Wayne than in larger US cities. Others are joining family members and friends who have settled here.

Like many in Fort Wayne, Wah Wah Soe left Myanmar following the troubles of 1988. She came to the US for her children’s future, their education and her own chance of an education. Her older children now attend American schools and she herself hopes to become a US citizen.

Despite a desire to return to Myanmar she feels her future is here in America, the country that accepted her claim for refugee status.

Fort Wayne is now recognized for having the largest Myanmar population in the United States. The first to arrive were placed here by the US government, but now with a growing and thriving community, word has spread and people are choosing to come here.

“The refugees can reach out to others very easily in Fort Wayne,” said Nyen Chan, Catholic Charities. “That is the main reason so they can share their feelings when they arrive in a new country, their frustrations, they can share with people who understand their own language and culture.”

Nyein Chan helps the newly-arrived to settle in, finding them housing and jobs. When he was sent here in 1994 there were 34 people from Myanmar, now, he estimates there are six to seven thousand.

Yet it feels like Fort Wayne is fostering a new type of people, who are fiercely hanging onto to their traditions, while at the very same time, assimilating into the American city they’ve come to call home.

Source: Channel News Asia

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