A celebration was held by the St. Paul Karen community on Saturday, January 3rd, to mark the beginning of year 2748 of the Karen era. Traditionally held on the first day of Thalay month, the actual date of the Karen New Year fell on December 27th this year.
Several hundred people gathered for the all-day event at the Boys and Girls Club on the East side of St. Paul. It began with the ceremonial singing of the Karen national Anthem and a recital of the history of the event in 3 different languages – Pwo and Sgaw dialects of Karen, and English. Ritual recitals and performances were punctuated with food, song and dance throughout the day as families came together for the event. State Senator Mee Moua of St. Paul greeted the community on behalf of the State of Minnesota and spoke from her personal experience as an immigrant in addressing both Karen elders and youth with advice and encouragement. She focused her comments particularly on young adults in the Karen community.
“You represent the backbone of this community – you will be the bridge between your parents and younger siblings,” Sen. Moua said to the young adults. “You will also be called upon to be a bridge between your community and the outside, and that is a hard job.”
An ethnic minority in Myanmar (formerly called Burma), Karen people have been the target an ethnic cleansing program by the ruling military junta. There were reports that many were excluded from receiving assistance after Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Irawaddy delta area in May of 2008.
According to the International Organization for Migration, over 4,000 ethnic Karen refugees were moved from Mae La camp in Tak province (largest of 9 camps along the Thai-Myanmar border) to the United States in the first seven months of 2008. Many of those resettled in the U.S. began arriving in Minnesota during the following months to join the growing St. Paul Karen community, largest in the U.S.
Recent Karen immigrants were present at the St. Paul New Year celebration, having come together with family and friends for the first time in their new home.
“For the new year, may your home be full of happiness and hope,” Said Sen. Moua.