Who’s Who in Sioux Falls

Photo courtesy of adaptorplug via Flickr

Photo courtesy of adaptorplug via Flickr

Unless you’re Native American, you have relatives who were refugees or immigrants from abroad. Your great-great-great grandmother may have been born in Germany, England, Scandinavia, or Russia. She may have suffered great hardship to make the journey to start a new life overseas.

The newest Americans coming as refugees to Sioux Falls have similar stories to those of your great-great-great-grandmother, but may have a different country of origin. If they arrived in 2012, there’s a good chance they hail from Bhutan, Eritrea, or Burma.  

The largest population joining the Sioux Falls community right now is the Bhutanese-Nepali. Become friends with someone from this culture and you’ll get a meal of spicy curry along with an extensive network of new friends, as the average family size is eight. You’re likely to learn about Hindu festivals or the Kirat religion, but you may also learn about Christianity or Buddhism, as a minority practice those religions. And if someone asks you what your ‘caste’ is, they’re asking your last name—the terms can be used synonymously.This group has spent a generation—about 20 years—in refugee camps in Nepal after being persecuted for their ethnicity, religion, culture, and language in their homeland of Bhutan. While it’s hard to find a positive in the inhumane camp existence (little running water, electricity, and medical care), children were able to attend school in the camp and are consequently fluent in English. The younger generation’s transition to the U.S., then, is oftentimes much smoother than other populations because of this reduced language barrier.     

Another people group—the Kunama—hail from Eritrea, an African nation that you may not have learned about in elementary school since it’s only existed since 1994. You may meet a Kunama person in a community garden in town, as most worked as farmers and pastoralists before coming to Sioux Falls. The reason for their journey to the U.S. is based in part on the fertile land they farmed—war broke out over it between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998.

If you have the privilege of sharing a meal with a Kunama friend, don’t look too hard for a fork—breads like injera and hambasha and meats with berbere spice are meant to be eaten with your hands. And if you like sleeping at night, beware the coffee…the coffee ceremony is beautiful, but the caffeine content is serious!

If you live in Huron, South Dakota, you are likely already friends with Karen (pronounced kuh-REN) people from Burma, as LSS Refugee and Immigration Center’s Huron office focuses on this growing population. You may get invited to the local Baptist church to attend a Karen service, as most Karen are either Christian or Buddhist. Belief in the spiritual realm is strong, and physical or mental illness can be attributed to the loss of one’s spirit, or kla.

The Karen are survivors—some have spent years hiding in jungles due to the oppressive militarized government. Their culture has survived with them, as evidenced by bright red ethnic dress and woven bags slung over the shoulders of both men and women. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Karen home, you’ll be sampling white rice that may be served with meat or fish and vegetables such as mushrooms or cucumbers.       

If you’d like to learn more about the original country of your new American friends, we’d recommend the Cultural Orientation Resource Center’s Web site. And if you’d like to begin a mentorship with a newly-arrived refugee family, please contact our office at (605) 731-2000 or click here.

Post by Amy S.Z., Refugee & Immigration

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