Few people in West Ridge are aware that our neighborhood has become home to more than one thousand refugees who have escaped religious and political persecution in Myanmar.
The Rohingya are eager to share their history and culture with their neighbors, and will soon open the Rohingya Cultural Center at 2604 West Devon Avenue. The grand opening is schedule for this Spring. Details will be posted here as they are finalized.
I visited the site yesterday. There’s a lot to be done, but the transformation of the long-vacant one-story building is impressive. The Center’s founders and organizers plan to keep their culture alive and to make a place for themselves in America. With that in mind, they will soon be recruiting volunteers to each English and help the Rohingya learn about Chicago and American culture.
The Rohingya are a distinct ethnic minority in Myanmar (formerly Burma). There are fewer than two million Rohingya worldwide; about a million live outside Myanmar. They are Muslims in a country that is perhaps 90% Buddhist. Myanmar’s government has branded the Rohingya as Bengali (coming from Bangladesh), and in 1982 refused to recognize Rohingya as citizens, thus making them stateless.
Government policies deny them health care, education, and humanitarian aid. Laws limit travel, marriage, and the right to have children, and Rohingya property is subject to confiscation without compensation. Journalists reported that Rohingya were excluded from the country’s 2015 census.
If you’re struck by the parallels with the Nuremburg Laws (by which the Nazis excluded the Jews from civic and cultural life and encouraged violence and terrorism against them),you’re not alone. In May of 2015, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issues a report on the plight of the Rohingya, “They Want Us All To Go Away: Early Warning Signs of Genocide in Burma.” The U.N. has also taken notice.
Let’s welcome them to West Ridge.