Teen refugees from Bhutan and Burma face new social and cultural challenges in Seattle and in the U.S. The Seattle Refugee Youth Project is helping teen refugees transition through digital storytelling workshops. Bala Diyali, 18, is a Bhutanese refugee living in Western Washington since 2008, and his story is featured in this episode of "KCTS 9 Connects."
Coming to America
The immigration debate remains one of the most contentious issues in America today. On January 25, 2011, President Obama referenced the need for comprehensive immigration reform in his State of the Union Address. When we think of immigration, a lot of us might immediately turn our minds toward the issue of Latinos coming, legally or illegally, from Mexico. We decided to explore a different side of the issue.
Every year, thousands of immigrants come to the U.S. not just seeking a better life, but a life period. They are refugees, many from countries divided by war or political strife. Most have spent years living in refugee camps around the world before being granted a chance to come to America.
When we first began this story, the goal was to show the process by which these refugees come to the U.S., and specifically how Seattle is home to a growing population of refugees from places such as Burma, Bhutan and Sudan. But the story quickly changed direction. We assumed that “coming to America” was everything the refugees had been hoping for, and that their transition to life in America would be easy.
But after speaking with several young refugees, they shared how difficult it really is - how differences in language, culture and religion make it hard to fit in, and can turn them into targets of teasing and ridicule at school. High school is tough enough, right? Imagine what it’s like when you don’t know anyone, and don’t speak the language.
We found that the most basic adjustments to life here were sometimes the most challenging. Modern appliances – things most of us take for granted, like a microwave oven – are completely foreign and often overwhelming.
No matter how great we presume this country looks to the eyes of recent immigrants, this bottom line is that America is not their home. Many refugees would prefer to be in their native land, were it not for the political or social instability that forced them to leave.
Sabrina Register talks with teenagers about the challenges they face coming to America. And she profiles the Seattle Refugee Youth Project’s digital storytelling program, which is letting teens share their stories.
Ethan Morris, Senior Producer