Our Turn: Let us welcome our new Bhutanese neighbors
In Concord, there is still work to do
Last week, another incident of racially-based hatred diminished our community and reminded us that there is still work to do to be the friendly and welcoming Concord we want to be. Someone, probably a neighbor, wrote hateful notes and left them on the door of a Bhutanese family new to the country. We then learned that other acts of bullying happened in this housing complex against the Bhutanese – stones have been thrown, youth have blocked doorways and demanded money for entry, unfriendly words were spoken.
It is hard to understand how anyone could see our new Bhutanese neighbors as a threat. Go into just about any Bhutanese home in town and you will be welcomed, served chia (tea), and probably offered a meal. You will be treated graciously and with the kind of hospitality many of us have forgotten in the rush of our busy lives. You will meet people who embody the family values that Americans talk about but don’t always practice. Bhutanese families take care of each other, respect their elders and teach good values to their children.
Knowing what the Bhutanese have been through on their journey to Concord, how could anyone not welcome them with open arms?
Anything but happy
Bhutan is a small Himalayan kingdom situated between the two big Asian giants, India and China. It is known to the world as one of the most exotic tourist destinations in the world. The model for the mythical Shangri-La, Bhutan is a country of heart-stopping beauty. It declares itself to be the country with the highest Gross National Happiness. However, for the Bhutanese people living in New Hampshire, Bhutan has been anything but happy.
Tiny Bhutan has generated the largest number of refugees in the world in proportion to its total area and population. Nepali-speaking people known as the Lhotsampa migrated to Bhutan in 1624 and built homes and businesses. They raised generations of families and contributed to the growth and development of Bhutan for centuries. With the passage of time, Nepali-speaking Bhutanese began playing major and influential roles in Bhutanese culture, economy, education, and government.
This presented a threat to the ruling powers, and consequently thousands of people were arbitrarily threatened, intimidated, arrested, tortured, raped and killed. More than 100,000 peace-loving citizens were forced to leave Bhutan between 1990 and 1995, and made to live the most pathetic refugee life for over 18 years in refugee camps in Nepal.
The Lhotsampa longed to return to their homes and resume their lives. It was only when no hope of repatriation was left and no other options remained that they accepted the hospitality of the United States and agreed to be resettled here. So far about 65,000 Bhutanese have been resettled in the U.S. and approximately 1,800 of them were fortunate enough to restart and rebuild their lives in New Hampshire.
The Bhutanese are here as part of a formal resettlement program and New Hampshire is their new home. Soon they will be citizens. These families deserve every chance to pursue the American Dream. Consistently refugees have proven that they are hard working and driven to succeed.
They increase our nation’s diversity and enrich our communities culturally and linguistically.
They become professionals and taxpayers and open businesses that create new jobs. Google, Intel, Yahoo, Hotmail, Sun Microsystems, YouTube, and eBay were all established by refugees and immigrants. Immigration is good for our economy.
We live in a global world, yet so many of our American youth have limited experience of other cultures. Immigrants and refugees remind us that there is much in the world beyond our borders. The exposure in school to other cultures, lifestyles, languages, beliefs and heritage is an excellent education for our young people.
Sometimes refugees are perceived as being a drain on America’s welfare and social support systems. People complain about their levels of unemployment – or conversely, their taking away jobs from “real” Americans. These negative perceptions are unfounded.
They come to the United States hoping to regain self-sufficiency and economic stability for their families and the community they live in. Refugees often start with temporary, part-time and low-paying jobs with no benefits, and are not to blame for the persistent unemployment we are experiencing in our current economy.
To the parents and children targeted by this hateful speech, we grieve for you that you have come so far and through so much adversity, only to have been treated so poorly by people who should know better. We want you to know that the stone throwers are in the minority. You have many friends who are ready to stand by you and support you. We’ve got your back.
To the writers of hateful graffiti and the throwers of stones, we hope someday you will have a cup of chia with your Bhutanese neighbors, enjoy some dhal bhaat and momos, and have a conversation about what it means to be living in a changing Concord. You have a lot of friends you haven’t met, who will broaden your horizons and enrich your lives in ways you haven’t dreamed of.
Until then, Namaste.
(Bhagirath Khatiwada of Concord is a former refugee from Bhutan. He is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration from the University of New Hampshire. Julia Freeman-Woolpert of Concord is outreach director at the Disabilities Rights Center.)