Unwanted in Myanmar, Thriving in Chicago

The New York Times reported this morning that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s new leader, has asked the U.S. Ambassador not to use the term “Rohingya” because her government does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, although it does grant such recognition to 135 other ethnicities within the country (formerly Burma). Instead, the government claims the Rohingya are really Bengalis (from Bangladesh).  A member of the Foreign Ministry, U Kyaw Zay Ya, said that “Our position is that using the controversial term does not support the national reconciliation process and solving problems.”

Many experts believe the Rohingya are indigenous to Rakhine State in Myanmar, where Muslims have lived for centuries. But the government disagrees. The Rohingya lost their citizenship in 1982 and are not permitted to attend school, marry, receive medical care, or own property.

But the Rohingya community in Chicago, and its Culture Center, not yet a month old, are thriving.

This week the Center received a substantial donation of housewares and furniture for distribution to community members in need. Thanks to the efforts of Gina Allen of the Heartland Alliance, the Center’s West Ridge neighbors have volunteered for homework tutoring for the children. Gina is also organizing the adult ESL classes, again staffed with neighborhood volunteers, including retired teachers. The Center’s Executive Director, Nasir Zakaria, is moving forward with plans for crowd-funding to support the youth soccer team. The Web site will soon be live.  The Rohingya are also exploring the possibility of opening a business to provide jobs to help support the community.

The head of Myanmar’s Association for the Protection of Race and Religion said of the Rohingya, “…they are not of our nationality.”

Well, here in West Ridge we welcome honest, hardworking people determined to live in peace and freedom in our multiethnic community.

Myanmar is the poorer for their absence.


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