Refugees from Myanmar who have fled to Texas fight for democracy from afar.
Sang Thang had to rely on his aunt’s robe to protect him from mosquitoes while sleeping during a risky voyage to flee Myanmar’s military dictatorship when he was four years old.
He is now a part of a Burmese community in the United States, which would welcome a similar shroud of safety for their motherland as it faces another military assault.
This week, deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court in the capital, Naypyidaw, underscoring the military’s continued hold on this region, much as it did when Thang left his hamlet Aive in 2006.
As members of a Christian minority residing in western Chin state, he and his family suffered persecution, so a life-changing vacation beckoned. “At the time, the United States was seen as a second heaven for us and our community,” Thang, who is now 19, said. “It was a place where we could do whatever we wanted.”
His parents had been saving money in Malaysia for the family’s escape for two years. To join them, the child had to trek across Thailand on foot. Rivers had to be crossed, anxieties had to be conquered, and law enforcement had to be evaded.
He traveled throughout Thailand with his sister and aunt, guided by people who knew the best path. He wore no footwear and wore tattered clothes. Thang told Washington Newsday, “We always had to stay watchful, we slept in caves, lurked in the jungle, and did our best to make it to Malaysia.”
He was reunited with his family in Ampang Jaya, Malaysia, after two and a half weeks and 740 kilometres. He claims he was one of the fortunate ones; for others, the trek took months.
His family obtained the proper documents and relocated to Lewisville, a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, two years later. It is home to almost 4,000 Chin state residents, and he attends Lewisville High School, where he is one of many academically successful Chin children.
When the military lifted restrictions in 2010, the Burmese population in the United States shared the euphoria in their homeland.
In the first democratic election in decades, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept to victory.
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