When Soeng Kha Mahn arrived in Akron in 2001 from his homeland in Mon, Burma (also recognized as Myanmar), some of his fellow countrymen were already here to show him around.
All four of them. Like many of the Mon people, Mahn emigrated to the United States to avoid persecution because of his race, religious and political beliefs.
“We don’t like the way the Burmese people run the country,” says Mahn, now 40 years old. “There’s that Burmese chauvinism ... ‘You are the majority, so you do whatever you want to do.’ And the system is set up by parliament, which is kind of unfair to the minority [Mon].”
Imagine you had to leave your homeland and take on another one in a country thousands of miles away. In addition to the potential language barrier, there's likely a host of other unfamiliar scenarios that will unfold with local customs, religion and even diet. While this may seem adventurous to some, a new beginning? It can also be daunting, scary and uncertain.
"Those who arrive here as refugees often are from war-torn areas where there's conflict, primarily from refugee camps, and they come here at the invitation of the state department," said Michael Byun. "Immigrants come here largely by choice for family reunification, job opportunity or education."
Byun is the the executive director for Asian Services in Action, Inc. (ASIA), which has offices in Akron and Cleveland. He left South Korea in 1975 when he was a year old with his parents, who came to this country to pursue professional opportunities. ASIA's thrust is to empower and advocate for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who come to this area.
Local refugee youths are feeling extra fortunate – and warm. Dozens of recent immigrants and refugees are receiving brand new scarves, hats and mittens, thanks to dedicated volunteers in the Lucky Seniors program at Asian Services in Action.