The Rapidian

Chin Community of Grand Rapids invites local residents to share in their culture

There is a large number of Burmese refugees in Grand Rapids. To better understand our new neighbors, join in their public celebration, and learn about their adjustment to Grand Rapids culture.
Traditional Burmese food. Rich and earthy spices are a mark of the Chin cuisine.

Traditional Burmese food. Rich and earthy spices are a mark of the Chin cuisine. /Burma Democratic Concern

Underwriting support from:

Want to get involved with refugee communities in GR?

Check out these two programs for ideas of how you can engage with your new neighbors! Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services

The Chin Community of Grand Rapids will host the third annual National Chin Day Celebration this coming Saturday, February 23, at East Kentwood High School Auditorium (6230 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Kentwood). The event is free and will run from 1:30-5:00 p.m.

The Chin are an ethnic group from Burma/Myanmar who have been suffering persecution since 1962 when a civil war broke out. In recent years Grand Rapids has grown substantially in the number of refugees relocated here and now boasts 500-1000 Burmese refugees. This celebration is in honor of the 64th anniversary of Burmese independence from Great Britain in 1948.

"We are Chins. We have strong values and traditions that make us who we are...But now we are also Americans, and it is important that we learn to share in this culture as well," says Tial Lian, a member of the Chin Community of Grand Rapids who organized the National Chin Day Celebration.

This event is open to the public and anticipates participants from all different backgrounds, cultures and sectors of Grand Rapids. The celebration will be family friendly, showcasing traditional Chin food, dance and dress. There will also be speeches given and awards presented to members of the Chin community. The presentations will be made in the Chin language. 

Full of history, hope and wisdom that comes from undergoing significant loss, the Chin people are happy to call Grand Rapids their new home, says Lian. They look forward to engaging more with the Grand Rapidian culture, he says. 

Aside from hosting this celebration annually, Lian and his team of volunteers at the Chin Community of Grand Rapids work year long to support the needs of the many refugees who live mainly in the Wyoming neighborhood. Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services provide extensive resources and aid to the refugees as well. They also offer opportunities for Grand Rapidian community members to volunteer in various capacities to help refugees adjust to life in America. 

Lian explains that the biggest pressures he sees refugees facing once they come to America are homesickness, inability to work, lack of public transportation and the language barrier. These barriers in turn inhibit their ability to learn the social and governmental systems of America, according to Lian. Until they are able to work in the U.S., refugees rely on a small amount of governmental support. Once able to work, many Chins have found the adjustment to working in America a difficult one, says Lian.

"We are used to being self-employed. The Chin Province is farmland and that's the type of hard work we do... We're not use to having to clock in at a factory and only have a ten minute break every few hours," Lian says. "We can do it because we have strong work ethic, but it causes a lot of stress."

"There can be tremendous pressures," Lian continues, "we cannot lose our jobs because the majority of us are also sending money back to our families in Burma every month."  

The Chin Community believes that education is the key to empowering the refugees to stand against these stresses and to thrive in their new freedom in America. Currently, the volunteers at Chin Community lead individuals through the processes they need help or translation with (including financial issues, setting up doctor appointments, transportation and phone calls) Their hope is to offer seminars and trainings teaching on the social systems in America. The aim is to not just help them accomplish tasks, but to understand the systems behind them and therefore acclimate to the culture in the United States. 

"The Chins have always loved Americans since the first Americans came to Burma in the 1800's," says Lian. This history with America makes the Chin optimistic about their new life in America, he says.

"Overall, even with the hardships, they are very happy to be here" Lian says. The Chin see America, he says, as their new home and desire to live here in a way that reflects that. 

"We hope that we can be seen as neighbors," says Lian, "and as an integrated part of the community here."

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