There’s nothing like spending a few hours immersed in another culture to remind one of jus how fortunate we Americans are. Other residents of this planet pay dearly—sometimes with their lives—just for daring to imagine living with some of the many blessings Americans take for granted.
I thought about this as The Rohingya Culture Center opened with a grand celebration of an ancient culture rooted in faith, family, and community.
The standing-room-only crowd listened attentively as guest speakers discussed both the plight of the Rohingya and their amazing resilience. Rohingya survivors of government-sanctioned torture and slave labor related their stories of suffering, providing eyewitness testimony to the pain of a community facing extermination for the crime of being Muslim in a Buddhist country. Speakers shared the harrowing details of their escapes from imprisonment and near-starvation, and their long and difficult journey to freedom in America.
Officials from American Muslim organizations welcomed the Rohingya, praising their spirit and determination to build new lives in America. As I’ve come to know Muslims as neighbors and friends, I’ve seen the high value that Muslims place on education and community service. These values were supported again at the opening ceremonies as leaders urged the community to focus on education so they could become contributing members of society as well as American citizens, able to participate in the privilege of voting.
The Center’s guiding light, Nassir bin Zakaria, who worked so tirelessly to make the community’s dream a reality, received a standing ovation from the crowd. He has served as point man for the Rohingya throughout the process of opening the Culture Center.
The Rohingya extended the most gracious hospitality to their guests, and the banquet after the ceremonies was lavish and delicious, all of it prepared by Rohingya women. I had researched Rohingya food online so I would have some idea of what the food offerings might be. The online info was far off the mark! The food served was truly a treat for an American palate, an unusual pairing of spicy entrees with naturally sweet fruit side dishes and luscious desserts.
I’ve never seen more stunning Muslim dress. Robes and headscarves were colorful, embroidered and appliquéd, some with pearls and jewels stitched the length of the arm and across the shoulders. Some of the headscarves were elaborately beaded, others held in place with artfully placed jewelry. The two-tiered headscarves with lace and other trimmings were simply breathtaking.
A Web site for the Culture Center is under construction, and the first exhibits and cultural offerings are being planned.
I believe the Rohingya people and their Culture Center are great additions to our neighborhood. The next time you’re in the area, please stop in and introduce yourself.