Local Refugee Community Celebrates Karen New Year
The Crawford High School auditorium was decorated in traditional Karen decor on Jan. 12 to celebrate the Karen New Year.
Karen youth presented a colorful show of traditional fashion, music and dance before moving on to the cafeteria to share a meal.
It’s an important holiday for the Karen people, whose culture is religiously diverse. The Karen New Year is not specific to just one religion and allows the community to bond together. In the Karen state of Burma, this is the season of the rice harvest and a time to celebrate the abundance that hard work brought in.
Most of the Karen people living in City Heights have never seen their southeast Asian homeland. Decades of civil unrest and ethnic prosecution in Burma lead many Karen people to flee the country long ago. They grew up in refugee camps in Thailand, Malaysia and other nearby countries before taking sanctuary in the United States.
No longer attached to the land that supports them, the Karen people of City Heights have struggled with learning a new urban culture since settling in 2007.
The Karen Organization of San Diego was founded two years later to help the Karen community obtain resources, find work and become self sufficient.
Nao Kabashima, executive director of the organization, said celebrating events such as the Karen New Year is necessary to preserve the Karen culture. Karen diaspora numbers now exceed the population in Burma.
“Their ancestors say that to keep the Karen culture, you have to celebrate the New Year even if you are far away from the Karen state,” Kabashima said.
She said that the youth here have begun to forget about the cultural songs and dances, but the Karen New Year gives the older generation an annual opportunity to teach them to sing and dance the traditional Karen way.
Celebrations echoed in Rangoon, Burma, where recent government reforms and peace talks slowly progress a vision of Burmese democracy.