Pastor Zam Mang: Chin Community in Lewisville, Texas
Frequently Asked Questions
The Chin are a people group from Myanmar (Burma). The Chin who come to us live predominantly in Chin State in the western side of Burma, near India. They speak the dialect Hakha Chin and are called the Hill People. They call themselves the Lai people.
They have no place to go. The Chin are a predominately Christian tribe, converted by early missionaries to Burma. They are seen as threats by the Buddhist military junta who rules the country because they supported democracy in the last election. They live with constant intimidation. Many have fled to neighboring countries – India, Thailand and Malaysia. The men have spent anywhere from 2 years to 11 years in Malaysia in tents in the jungle, working to get money to get their families out of Burma into Malaysia. Then the whole family hides and works in Malaysia for a year or so, waiting to get to the US. The US and other countries through the UN have offered to take a certain number of them as political refugees. The Dallas metro is a major resettlement city; our Chin originated as a spill-over from Dallas because of the jobs available at Reliance Airport.
Yes. They are given a social security number and the right to work immediately when they arrive.
No one really knows exactly. The US sets a quota for the number of refugees allowed into our country, but the Chin continue to be a State Department priority for resettlement because they have fled to Malaysia, and they are illegal in Malaysia. The majority of the families have come within the last four years. Most of our newest refugees are relatives of the ones who are already here and they are continuing to bring families to get them out of danger.
Because we have a settlement of Chin here, and their families are here. They have been separated from their brothers and sisters for many years and they all work to get their families out of Malaysia, which is a very bad place for refugees. A tight knit people, Chin regularly seek out friends and family when moving to the United States. As a result, Indianapolis, Indiana and Lewisville, Texas have become the de facto settling place for Chin refugees. Lewisville is a good middle point between several job centers for Chin – Sherman, Ft. Worth, Alliance and Dallas. The Chin are eager to work and are very hard workers. They are also extremely frugal and know how to make a little go a long way. The majority are in their 20’s and 30’s – young marrieds just starting families, or singles. Virtually all of the Chin in Lewisville are affiliated with one of 7 Chin churches in the Metroplex.
Their own first priority is a job, which means they need access to a car or carpool. And sometimes they need rent assistance furniture, dishes, clothes or diapers to get established. They need a smile of welcome. They need explanations of American culture. All the paperwork and red tape that accompany our lives on a regular basis are a nightmare for them. They need help navigating our “systems” such as school and work and health system. They need English. They need interaction with Americans. They need to be treated with respect as our Christian brothers and sisters who can teach us about suffering for the name of the Lord. They need us to love on them for a while. And we need to learn patience, endurance, prayerfulness, and faith from them. Just imagine, they come from the mountains of Chin State through the jungles of Malaysia to the suburb of Lewisville in North Texas, with one suitcase and no English.
According to the US State Dept, the new leader Thein Sein, is definitely making some changes in order to attract economic development from the US, but it is still not a safe place for Chin. And our Chin community does not know anybody in Malaysia who has tried to go back that has made it back home alive. Most of the Chin in Lewisville are planning to become US citizens and then they hope it becomes safe enough that they can go back to visit relatives. But they plan to remain in the U.S.
History of Chin as Refugees
The United States classifies people groups as refugees for several reasons, including:
- 1. Ethnic Persecution. The Chin are a persecuted ethnic minority people group. The ruling military junta are Burmer.
- 2. Religion Persecution. The Chin are 98% Christian. The Burmer military is a violent variant of Buddhism.
- 3. Political Persecution. Chin were seen as threats by the Buddhist military junta who rules the country because they supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy candidate in the 1990 general election, which she won handily.
Instead of recognizing the results of the election, the military made her prisoner and began to go after those who had supported her. The Chin overwhelmingly did not support the military, so government began to kill their leaders/pastors, harass and intimidate the people with forced labor camps, rape, and beatings.
Many Baptist pastors were either killed and their bodies draped across the podiums of their churches to intimidate their congregations or they were sent off to labor camps. At that time, many Chin fled their country to India, Thailand and Malaysia.
The U.S. and other countries, through the UN, offered to take a certain number of Chin as political refugees. In the aftermath of 9/11, the resettlement stopped because there was some question as to whether the Chin had fought against their government, which was ground for denial from the U.S. However, the Chin were eventually granted exemption, and the resettlement to the United States has been going strong ever since.
In November 2010, Myanmar’s ruling junta stated that its party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, won 80% of the votes. This claim was widely disputed by pro-democracy opposition groups, asserting that the military regime engaged in rampant fraud to achieve its result. However, shortly after, the military authorities in Burma released the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, she was elected to Parliament, and she was able to leave the country for a visit to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
In early 2013, some Chin who have become U.S. citizens have traveled back to Chin State and were not harassed. However, economic conditions for the Chin remain deplorable: No education, no health care, no employment. Because of the changing political climate, the U.S. State Department has announced that it will begin shutting down the resettlement program for the people of Burma in three to five years. But they will first resettle the 30,000 Chin who are still in Malaysia, mostly to either the United States or Australia. Only those who have friends or relatives already in Lewisville will be resettled here.