AAAS Report Briefing

Invisible Newcomers: Refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan in the United States

Fleeing from one's homeland, culture, and loved ones—especially while trying to live within a new, strange culture—is bound to be an emotionally wrenching experience for the thousands of refugees who resettle each year in the United States. In particular, refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan know all too well about the challenges involved with finding support and resources when resettling in America. While these communities make up the largest refugee arrivals in this country, with 30 percent and 26 percent respectively, Burmese and Bhutanese refugees continue to be the most overlooked and "invisible" Asian American populations in the United States, especially when it comes to their demographic patterns, socioeconomic outcomes, and educational attainment and experiences. The omission of these groups is to be considered given that all Asian Americans, including Burmese and Bhutanese refugee communities, represent the changing face of America.

The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF)—in collaboration with the Association for Asian American Studies and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus—hosted a briefing to discuss findings from its report, Invisible Newcomers: Refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan in the United States, which gives voice to and provides comprehensive data about the challenges surrounding these refugee populations.

The event took place in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill Wednesday, January 15, 2014. The media briefing started with remarks from Madeleine Bordallo, Congressional Representative from Guam, who said to everyone, "Don't judge me by my looks. I am a Pacific Islander". She expressed support for APIASF and AAAS's efforts to shed light on the unique challenges faced by the Burmese/Bhutanese populations, emphasized the need for disaggregated data, and underscored CAPAC's commitment to this cause.

The event continued with a panel discussion and Q&A session with Myra Dahgaypaw, Board Member, Karen American Communities Foundation, and Janelle Wong, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Maryland, College Park. Dahgaypaw shared her story of growing up as a Burmese refugee, where she had never used real notebooks and pencils until arriving at a refugee camp. She talked about the stigma refugees face and the disillusionment that occurs when vital services are not provided, such as English language classes, cultural orientation, and training for parents regarding the necessity of education for their children. Wong added to the discussion, remarking that "these groups should not be forgotten". She urged politicians to be aware of new constituents in their districts, and that while these new arrivals represent opportunities, they are also potential sources of tension in these communities.