Fort Wayne, Indiana has the largest Burmese refugee population (estimated at around 6,000) outside of Burma, now known as Myanmar. In this community are different ethnic identities, among them: Mon, Karen, Chin, Shan, Rohinga, etc. On January 5, 2011, the Karen community celebrated Day One of Pyatho Waxing Moon 2750 Karen Era (KE). Hundreds of people gathered at South Side High School (one of the country’s most culturally diverse) on January 30th to celebrate the beginning of a new year through prayer, music, dance, and food.
Dressed in various patterns of red, white, and blue – both young and old performed. There were traditional dances such as the Don dance, as well as more modern dance and music. Much to the enjoyment of the “teen” crowd, there was a “USA-style” rock band that played rock with songs in Karen, Burmese, Thai, and English. The teen performers were dressed accordingly in jeans, tennis shoes, t-shirts, and some had spiked and colored hair. The mixture of traditional and transitional cultures is significant. The journey of the Karen people has been long and difficult.
President Saw Tamlabaw of the Karen National Union, in his New Year Address said:
“On this New Year Day, I would like to wish all the Karen people living inside the country, abroad, and in the border areas to be full of bodily strength, high morale and to be able to enter the field of work with high spirit and full energy in the New Year!….It is necessary for every Karen, living in different parts of the world, to uphold the Karen people’s cultural heritage and language, and hand them down to posterity so that the Karen people may not become extinct.”
For an American observing the entertainment and enjoying the Karen food, the strife of these people was not readily apparent. Many spent their entire lives in refugee camps before gaining refugee status and resettling in Fort Wayne. They are grateful for a safe haven and strive to assimilate to our culture while maintaining their own heritage.
This New Year Celebration of 2750 KE in Fort Wayne exemplified a true portrayal of a “coming together” of two very different cultures. It was a celebration of freedom found here. It was a celebration of the Karen culture. It was a celebration of “cultural blending” in music, dance, and audience. It was a celebration of people.
For more information about the Karen people visit:
And, “Multicultural Council of Fort Wayne” page on Facebook