It’s amazing how many coats and jackets a family can accumulate over the years, and how many are left hanging in the closet, hardly ever worn. This week, I took a bunch of coats to the Asian Pacific Development Center to be distributed to one of Denver’s newest immigrant communities, the Burmese.
The APDC is a non-profit that offers health and social services to the local Asian communities, and Erin serves its the board of directors. The APDC conducted a food and goods drive for the Burmese over the holiday season, and is still accepting donations at its three locations: 1544 Elmira Street in Aurora, 1825 York Street in Denver and 6055 Lehman Drive, Suite 103 in Colorado Springs. Last summer, the APDC helped collect donated school supplies for students from both the Burmese and another Asian immigrant community, the Bhutanese.
Because many Asian communities have been in the U.S. for two, three or even four or more generations and we’ve assimilated into American society, it’s easy to forget that there are recent immigrants from Asia who are not as fortunate as those of us from Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea and other countries, whose families came here to seek better opportunities. In the case of the Burmese, and also the Bhutanese, another recent Asian immigrant group, they’ve arrived in America as refugees, like the waves of Vietnamese, Laotians and Hmong in the 1980s and ’90s.
The Bhutanese and Burmese refugees fled an oppressive regime or have been resettled from refugee camps across the globe.
But unfortunately, once here, they’re facing more oppression: In the past year, both Bhutanese and Burmese students were singled out and attacked in the Denver area. The first attacks were reported last spring; on December 11, a group of Bhutanese students were beaten and robbed after getting off a bus and one required emergency room treatment. The Denver Police Department distributed special cell phones to Bhutanese that are set to dial 911 in case of future attacks, but the community understandably would prefer the violence just stop. In the Denver Post story following the attacks, one Bhutanese refugee said:
“If they kill me and my son, what will my daughter and wife do?” said Dambar Bhujel, father of an 18-year-old victim, who is now wary of letting his son go to school.
“At first, I was happy to come to the United States. After one year, I’m feeling very bad and I don’t want to stay longer. But we can’t go back to Bhutan and we can’t go back to Nepal,” Bhujel said. “They told us America was secure.”