Joe P. Htwe
Audio Recording of Interview
Joe Htwe details his resettlement from a Thai refugee camp to the United States, which felt “magical” even though he soon realized he was treated as a foreigner and outsider. He speaks of how his refugee experience has strengthened his independence and details his goals to eventually bring his father to the United States and to purchase a home.
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Narrator: Joe P Htwe
Summary: Joe Htwe details his resettlement from a Thai refugee camp to the United States, which felt “magical” even though he soon realized he was treated as a foreigner and outsider. He speaks of how his refugee experience has strengthened his independence and details his goals to eventually bring his father to the United States and to purchase a home.
Topics: separation of family, memory, altered sense of time, xenophobia, American school, cultural adjustment, language barrier, religion, spirituality, dependence
Section 1: (00:00-03:50)
Origin - 20 years old, originally from Burma but lived most of life in Thailand. He doesn’t remember much from his time in Burma, just Thailand and the resettlement process
Initial move - He and his sister went to America with their grandma and aunt, most of people didn’t come with parents because some parents didn’t want to come but his grandma wanted to them to have more opportunities
Camp experience - Stayed in a refugee camp for 3 months – but for him as a kid it felt like forever. The camp had temples and churches, people were teaching Bible study, locals lived there too, kind of scary because the place seemed lawless.
Quality of life - They received food rations given every morning – water, beans, rice, if there’s not enough water they boil water from the river. He got his shots and prepared generally to go to America at the end of his stay in the camp.
Section 2: (03:50-08:00)
Arrival - Coming to the United States felt magical at first – there was generosity (food for everybody, houses for everyone), but it was still clear that he was in foreign land. People look at you in a certain way and you don’t feel very invited even if they are friendly, something with which you must cope.
Reception and school entrance - He mentioned receiving free school supplies and other things as a newcomer, especially from churches or at block parties. He liked American school, it wasn’t as difficult because the transition was easier at a young age.
Learning English - In Thailand, he went to dorm school and learned a bit of English (like just the ABC’s); found it hard to adjust to English in America, he took ESL (english as a second language) for four years. He came with a family of eight (him, sister, 3 cousins, grandma, 2 aunts) but some people have left because some got married and moved out
Section 3: (08:01-10:33)
Parental relationship - It wasn’t very difficult to leave behind his parents, he was mostly raised by his grandmother and didn’t know his parents very well because they were always working. He still keeps in contact with his dad although he went 14 years between moments together with him.
Future plans - He wants to eventually sponsor his dad to come to America, because America has more freedom and security. In Thailand, police don’t always respond to emergencies; they are often too late.
Economic opportunity - America also has many more job opportunities; in Thailand, you can be working 8-10 hours and get only 10 bucks a day. He experienced that life and prefers his American one.
Section 4: (10:33-15:09)
Religion - Raised in Thailand so he knows Thai but is Karen (from Burma) and his family is Buddhist. He is open-minded about religion, has been to church, sees everyone as worshiping the same thing but with different perspectives.
Coping - Family used to help him more than religion. Now, he has read some spirituality books, which helped him be more mindful and calm about situations.
Assistance and goals - The government and churches also helped a lot when he first came – gave them food and clothes. His main goal right now is trying to get his father to come here along with the help of his sister and his other goal right now is to become a house-owner. College is not on his mind, he likes self-education right now but it is an option for the future.
Section 4: (15:09-17:13)
Refugee experience - His experience as a refugee taught him about being independent and less needy in ways that no other individual has because as a refugee, he has been through times with fewer resources.
Lessons learned - He wants people to know that refugees are pretty much the same people and come to America for freedom and opportunity, they want to live a happy and safe life.