Eddie Su was a refugee, even before he was born. His family fled Burma for neighboring Thailand when his mom was 7 months pregnant with him, his older sister strapped to her back. She also had whatever food and supplies she was able to carry.
Su is one of about a thousand resettled Karen (pronounced kah-REN) people in the Akron area. The Karen, who have been violently driven out of their villages by the Burmese military, have faced an especially difficult struggle, as they technically have no home or nationality. They’re not recognized as citizens in their birth country, and even within the sanctuary of the refugee camps of Thailand, they have no citizenship and are confined to the camps’ boundaries and cramped living conditions.
“The world never recognized us as an ethnic group,” says Su, 20, who lives with his family in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood. “We should have a country and our own land. We have land, but there’s no peace.”
Su became a U.S. citizen last year, and he says it’s given him hope, along with a new perspective of his earlier life. Last month, he went back to Thailand to visit family members and the refugee camp where he once was raised. “This time, when I went back, it was way different. As a U.S. citizen, I was able to travel freely throughout the country because I traveled with my passport. I wanted to see how things have changed. I went to visit the refugee camp; I saw my Sunday School teacher.”
The Karen people began immigrating to Akron and other U.S. cities in 2006. While Su has adapted well to American life, his parents have had a much more difficult time, as they don’t speak English. But their motivation for resettling in the United States was their children and future generations. “Our parents came to the U.S. to show us the world and to show us opportunity,” he adds.
As an avid musician, Su says he likes to combine Thai and American music styles. He plays music in church: he alternates between attending the Karen Akron Baptist Church and the Open Door Church in North Hill, part of the nonprofit Urban Vision. Like many among North Hill’s refugee population, Su says he’s thankful for Urban Vision’s services and the ways it’s helped connect him with the community.
While he makes plans for his own future, Su says he would like to learn photography, video and other forms of media, so he can better share the stories and plights of refugees and help people connect to these experiences. While living in the refugee camp, he was particularly stricken by the number of of orphans he met.
As a result, he hopes to foster empathy with refugees and what they go through. “Sometimes, we have no home to stay in, no food to eat, no education. I want to encourage Americans to be happy with what they have and go out and learn about the world.”
He also encourages U.S. residents to better educate themselves on global issues. “If you want to be a good future leader, be a light in the darkness and helpful to those who suffer.”
When asked his favorite thing about living in the United States, he says it’s seeing diverse communities come together. “Everyone comes together as one, especially in North Hill.”
There are an estimated 400,000 Karen people resettled in Thailand, with more than 60,000 resettled in other countries. To learn more about Akron’s Karen population, visit the Karen Community of Akron’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Karen-Community-of-Akron-Inc-758298277691482/.