The Burmese Come to Houston

Get in, get out. Refugees have a shrinking window of support until it's time to fend for themselves.

Until July, Alam made the trip to work with a hollowed-out van, cramming as many as 25 people inside. He calls this unfortunate but necessary while his service got off the ground. He has since added another van and driver.

"Inside, it's horrible," says one woman, who works at American National Rags, of the 25-person ordeal, adding that if she complained, she would be fired. Another employee, Jaw Thung, whose family Alam relocated from Orlando, says he believed he was not allowed to arrange his own transportation to work.

Alam says these are baseless rumors that he has heard before. In July, Glenn wrote a letter to an Action Rags manager on behalf of 15 employees asking whether they could carpool on their own. They were told it made no difference. Alam now transports about 15 people using his two vans.

Chinlone, in which players kick a small ball made from dried palms over a net, is one of the most popular sports in Burma and other parts of Southeast Asia.
Chris Curry
Chinlone, in which players kick a small ball made from dried palms over a net, is one of the most popular sports in Burma and other parts of Southeast Asia.
Children sometimes wander the apartment complex on their own as they did in refugee camps, where the community made sure they were safe.
Chris Curry
Children sometimes wander the apartment complex on their own as they did in refugee camps, where the community made sure they were safe.

Twenty-one-year-old Janime says that on the morning of July 24, Alam brought her to one of the companies and offered her a job — but said it would cost $300. She refused. Alam calls this a misunderstanding. That morning he had called an employment agency from the phone book and inquired about its price (he does not remember the name of the agency), and he relayed that information to Janime when there were no rag jobs to be had.

Alam has approached all four agencies about working with them directly. Both Catholic Charities and Alliance say they're not interested. YMCA caseworkers have referred clients to Alam. Tate and the job developer at Interfaith have agreed to send clients Alam's way and subsidize $100 of the transportation.

_____________________

Early on a Sunday morning in August, the sprawling streets and strip malls are empty in southwest Houston, almost eerily so.

About 100 Burmese in bright red and blue are already gathered on the Sun Blossom lawn. This is the day for Karen unity, their biggest of the year. Poteet sits at the middle of the table of honor, looking uncertain in his ethnic garb. A Karen flag hangs nearby. Its colors are red for bravery, white for innocence and blue for peace.

As the priest goes through his sermon, people watch from lawn chairs and balconies, a couple of camcorders roll and kitchens buzz with the preparation of food.

The ceremony started 3,000 years ago to unite the Karen people spread around the mountains in their part of Burma. Now, says 20-year-old Thami Aung, "A lot of our people, they wander the world."

Most of the ritual's seven elements are very specific. There must be sugar cane and banana, sticky and regular rice, and red and white string. But any type of leaves will do. These came from the shrubs near the pool.

Seven pairs of parents and seven pairs of children gather around the table and cup the food and leaves in their hands. Then the priest calls upon the ancestors for another year of good luck. String is tied around outstretched wrists, and people seem reasonably sure the ancestors are coming, even here.

mike.giglio@houstonpress.com

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...