Watching this beautiful festival of agriculture and community, the Karen New Years Festival, about which I had heard little, I was struck by the fact that this dancing is very dangerous back in Burma, the people who celebrate this holiday are sometimes savagely persecuted, even killed.
The children of Burma, refugees now, work hard all year to practice their dancing and do honor to their culture and heritage. They are dedicated, hard-working and diligent, they spend little time on Facebook and many hours rehearsing, they work in perfect harmony.
What impressive kids, I thought, how lucky we are to have them here. They gathered in Albany today from all over the Northeast to celebrate their banned holiday, a simple celebration of a new crop, there is absolutely nothing political or subversive about it.
The descendant of refugees myself (my people came from one of the true “Shithole” countries of the earth), I am returning to the refugee experience and working to get to know the new refugees and understand their lives, as well as my own.
A refugee used to be a person drive to seek refute became of some actions taken or political opinions held or expressed. The meaning of the refugee has changed. Now, the “refugees” are those people so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means or possessions and who need help from refugee committees, governments or good Samaritans.
The refugee committees are overwhelmed, it seems to be up to the Samaritans.
In our country, government is withdrawing support from the refugees and is seeking to slam the few doors open to them shut. All over the world, the new refugees face hostility and indifference, and perhaps they always did. It seems pretty virulent right now in our country.
To be a refugee now, you are most often innocent of politics or activism, most often you are in the wrong place at the wrong time minding your own business. There is a hurricane or tsunami or typhoon or earthquake. Or even more likely in or time, genocide, tribal or religious conflict, the horrid maneuverings of dictators or superpowers, civil war or coups and revolutions.
Most of the refugees I have met were innocents driven from their homes and lives and pushed into dreadful refugee camps where they spend years hoping for a new life. The lucky ones were chosen by the U.N. or refugee groups and got to Europe or America.
There are so many success stories evident in the tales of people from these “Sithole” countries, their children in medical and law school, starting businesses, going to college, working job after job to move forward. They are natural and instinctive Americans, they’ve waited years to move forward and they can’t wait to do it.
As many as there are, there are many million more left behind, and the odds of them getting out of those camps are dwindling by the day. Almost every refugee I meet has left behind a spouse, mother, father, grandfather, nieces, nephews, even older children.
There are an estimated 67 million refugees in camps around the world today, according to the U.N.
They are beginning to understand that they may never see these loved ones again, yet another cross to bear at an overwhelming time in life. So it was a special joy to see this banned festival performed with such joy and openness here in our country, where they are working so hard to fit in and move forward with their lives. It was a pleasure to see these refugees dance and sing today.
I have never met people prouder and happier to be Americans, they are so much more grateful for their freedom, it seems, than the people who invented the idea.
If you wish to help support them, you can donate to my refugee fund, Jon Katz, Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or contribute via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm. com. Please mark you donation “refugee fund” if that’s where you want it to go. And thanks.