My name is Kay. I was born in Burma, but spent most of my life in a refugee camp. My family is one of the minorities that the Myanmar military persecuted. Led by a succession of strongmen, they burned our homes and forced us to flee our country because we are not in the dominant ethnic group.
Hundreds of thousands of us sought asylum in Thailand, and although we were safer in the camps, conditions were very poor. We had few freedoms, limited opportunities for education or work, and little hope of returning to our villages and way of life.
I am one of the lucky ones, though. I was in the refugee camps for 11 years when my application to relocate to the United States under UN and U.S. government programs was granted. To this day, I am immensely grateful to this country. For its humanity, its compassion, and its generosity.
There are many who have been in the camps for much longer, some close to 20 years. I ache for them because I know their despair. I understand their fears for their children who face discrimination and joblessness for their entire lives. I know what it is like to have no rights, no voice, no path out of poverty. The sense of hopelessness can be overwhelming, even with faith at your side.
Here in the United States, I just voted for the first time in my 31 years. After 9 years of working and paying taxes, and weeks of studying the U.S. constitution and all of its amendments, I took a test and passed, then stood with hundreds of other new Americans and pledged my allegiance to this country. I was proud, emotional, and ready to accept not only the freedoms but also the responsibilities of citizenship.
The simple act of casting a vote so that your voice can be heard is extraordinary. I listened to the arguments, watched some of the debates, and talked with others. Then I made up my mind, registered, and voted. I did what so many around the world admire about America – participated in a democratic process to elect our leaders. Without tanks rolling, thugs in my home, or laws blocking me. Mine was only one vote among many millions, but as Aung San Suu Kyi said, “even one voice can be heard loudly all over the world.” I believe she is right.
The next day I was disappointed. The candidate I voted for did not win, but that is not what saddened me most. Only 55% of those who could vote did. Almost half gave up a privilege that a judge had just told me was the most important I would ever exercise as an American.
The electoral college is a mystery to me, no matter how many times it is explained. Apparently it determines who becomes president even when a majority want someone else. And if I understand correctly, the outcome might have been different if more people had gone to the polls.
On the cliffs near where I live and work, anti-black and anti-Jewish graffiti has appeared along with demeaning words about women. I know this is not who we are, whether your family immigrated here 200 years ago or more recently. Americans are a decent people, with compassion and kindness for our neighbors and those less fortunate around the world.
Some say this election was a rebellion and a demand for change. As a Burmese woman, I understand that. My brothers and sisters are fighting for the same right now. But let’s be careful it doesn’t become something much darker, fueled by hate and cruelty. I’ve lived that as well.
#kindness #compassion #peace #gratitude
There is no one named Kay at Prosperity Candle, yet she exists. Hers is the combined voices of the women refugees who work at this small social enterprise, as well as its founders, and the many who embrace our values and commitment to the greater good for this country, the planet, and everyone seeking a brighter future for themselves and their families. Kay’s story and opinions are common to all the refugees here. Thank you for hearing their voices.