Time to Reflect Upon

By Dr. D.N.S.Dhakal                              July 25, 2017  

This was for the first time in the USA I met the resettled Bhutanese in such a large number. They were gathered for the Himalayan Festival which was organized from July 22 to 23 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

It was supposed to be a festivity for the resettled Bhutanese communities.  They had come from almost the most resettled locations in the US including from the state of Ontario and Quebec in Canada. On the 22nd evening, some 1,200 individuals were gathered at Scottish Rite Center which was rented for two days at 14,000 USD.

Office of the mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania issued a proclamation recognizing the presence of over 5,000 resettled Bhutanese in Harrisburg metropolitan area. According to the local source, some 500 families have purchased home, accounting 40% of the population. Many of the able-bodied members are employed at packaging industries.

Proclamation from the Office of Mayor of the state of Pennsylvania

Proclamation declaration from the Office of Mayor of Harrisburg, PA. Source/Himalayan Festival Facebook page.

I was delighted to participate in the festival since I could meet in one place erstwhile colleagues and friends from my earlier days in Bhutan and Bhutanese refugee camps had gathered.  I was looking forward the next two days as an opportunity to share with them information and ideas about our progress and concerns in the newly adopted socio-economic environment.

Young people, as everywhere, were spirited with the cultural events. Nepali folk songs and dances were capturing our hearts and minds. Everybody was enjoying. I left the place with the hope of returning the next day for an interaction program with the younger generation on “our hope and aspiration in the land of boundless opportunity”.

To my surprise I discovered the next day that the events were disrupted by a rowdy crowd soon after my departure, leading to the cancellation of all programs scheduled at Scottish Rite Center for the 23rd. I was told that these rowdies were the member of our own communities, primarily the younger generation, reportedly with records of the alcoholic problem.

That made me more curious to know about the resettled Bhutanese communities in Harrisburg. It took me a little time to discover that we are not doing well in education. Though some of our students have made to MIT, Yale, Princeton, Stanford or Duke Universities, the overwhelming majority is falling behind catching up in the school education.

From the 7000 strong population in Harrisburg, it is reported that only 50 students are attending community colleges. The situation is not any better in other resettled areas. Our younger generation may be struggling on planning to climb the ladder of upward mobility; some are stuck at entry level jobs; ending up in early marriages; living day-to-day on daily wages, and drifting towards substance abuses.

This ugly trend could easily sink our communities to the vicious cycle of poverty for which the blame should on our self. Instead of focusing on children’s education, some individuals are seen diverting their efforts on acquiring items of modern luxury which would have the higher cost for property taxes, repair, and maintenance.

Back in the refugee camps, our effort was in education. We have taken classes even on the bank of Mai River. That had enabled our children to learn the English language which has become handy in our resettled situation. Now with all the available opportunity in the US, aren’t we missing the opportunity for upward mobility?  Education had been the stepping ladder from transforming people from rag to riches.

This leads me to recall my meeting at the Department of Population with Ellen Salisbury, Assistant Secretary of State for the population in 2007. When I was informed about the decision to resettle some 60,000 Bhutanese refugees in the US, I had thanked the government for the generosity and assured her that we will work hard to become as successful as any other immigrant communities, including those from India.

The incident of July 22 at Scottish Rite Centre should not be acceptable to resettled Bhutanese under any circumstances. Time has come now leave behind any differences that we inherited from the past, put together our acts, formulate appropriate policies and plans and seek resources for corrective measures. We want our community to succeed. We want our younger generation to be in the universities, scientific communities, and corporate business and in US army. There is no reason why we cannot when the opportunities are available to us without any discrimination. Jai America, Jai Bhutan, and Jai NRB!