Maung, a Kachin Christian, was granted asylum in the U.S. after fleeing northern Burma in 1998. Maung’s grandparents became Christians when a missionary came to their village in the early 1900s. Today, Christians in Burma face discrimination and persecution.
By Walter Gallacher
7/24/2012 Burma (Post Independent) – This month’s featured immigrant is a political refugee from Burma, also called Myanmar. He fled the country in 1998 and came to the United States, where he has been granted asylum. Maung is not his real name. He asked for anonymity to protect his relatives who remain in Burma. Maung is now 40 and lives in Carbondale.
Maung: I came here with my sister. We had to leave Burma (Myanmar) because of the military government. We were involved in the student uprising of 1988,* and the government was looking for those of us who had been involved. Most of the students were protesting during that time.
Gallacher: Did you have to leave immediately?
Maung: No, we moved around a lot staying with our relatives in the mountain communities and hiding from the police. But things kept getting worse so we just came here to avoid being thrown in prison.
Gallacher: What did they do with the students when they caught them?
Maung: They threw them in prison without a trial and without telling their families where they were. A lot of the student leaders who were very active were captured right away. It was a very scary time.
Gallacher: It must have been very hard for you and your sister to have to flee your country.
Maung: The first few years were very hard. We struggled to learn English. And we weren’t used to seeing Caucasian people. They all looked the same to us. The only time we had seen them before was in the movies. We rarely saw foreigners where we lived in Burma. Occasionally we would see a missionary.
We came to Tennessee and stayed for a few months. I got a job at a car dealership washing and detailing cars. The owner of the dealership was a lady from our country, and she gave me a job.
A few months later I got a call from some Burmese people in Dallas who invited us to come there and work. So we moved to Dallas and lived there for a few years. I worked two jobs. In the morning I worked in a Chinese restaurant, and at night I delivered pizzas. It wasn’t an easy life.
Gallacher: You mentioned before the interview that you were Christian. How was it to be Christian in a Buddhist country?
Maung: It was hard to get a job. I am Kachin from the north of Myanmar. So I was not Burmese and I was Christian. There was a lot of discrimination. My grandparents and my parents are Christian, so I grew up a Christian.
Gallacher: How did that happen?
Maung: There was a missionary who came to Kachin from Omaha, Nebraska, a long time ago. His name was Ola Hanson.*** All the Christians from my country when they get to the United States want to go visit the grave of Ola Hanson in Omaha and pay their respect.