Bhutanese / Nepali Refugees in Pittsburgh: Reconciling Perspectives on Refugee Status
Project led by:
For the past two years I have been heavily involved in Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment (FORGE), which partners pairs of students with a recently resettled refugee family for weekly in-home ESL tutoring and cultural mentorship. I joined FORGE my first semester freshman year, and began seeing my family, the Khanals, the following January. Becoming close to the Khanal family, and other Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh, has been the most unexpected and incredibly meaningful experience of my time at Carnegie Mellon. I am currently the President of FORGE and have previously held other leadership roles including Tutoring Chair, the liaison between our club and JF&CS, a local resettlement agency. In spite of my involvement with refugees, it was not until I took Judith Schachter’s anthropologically-based, “Trafficking in Persons” course this past fall semester, that refugee issues became part of my academic interests.
The Bhutanese/Nepali refugees are often cited in the international community as having “model refugee camps.” Personal accounts from refugees cite high quality schools, hospitals, and community/social structures within the camp. In many ways the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees contradict stereotyped and media-fueled assumptions of refugees as vulnerable and deprived people who are unable to manage life after resettlement. However, other accounts confirm the prevailing view: abnormally high levels of depression/suicide, medical problems, a largely illiterate older generation, and issues of drinking/DUIs among young males. How do Bhutanese/Nepali refugees and those who work on their behalf reconcile these perspectives and apply them in their everyday life?
In an attempt to understand what it means to “succeed” as a resettled refugee, I will investigate the strategies of cultural adaptation and identity negotiation of resettled Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh. I intend to focus on refugee youth and their reconciliations of refugee status, identifying as Bhutanese, Nepali or American, and their obligations to their parents, culture, and community. Based in ethnographic fieldwork with the resettled Bhutanese/Nepali refugee community in Pittsburgh, my research will interpret their experiences against a backdrop of literature about refugee resettlement in the United States to expand and reconsider perceptions of “being a refugee.” The project will contribute a new perspective to refugee studies by emphasizing the perspectives on third country resettlement by those who hold refugee status.
Student BioHonors Department: History
Hometown: Agoura Hills, California
Major(s): BHA – Art and Psychology, additional major in Human-Computer Interaction
Future Plans: Speaking broadly, I want to be doing something where my background in art, design, and research meets my passion for social service/social issues. I hope that after graduating I will be using visual anthropological techniques to document and amplify the stories and experiences of those who have been marginalized and often do not have a voice, and/or using anthropological methods to understand the needs of underserved populations to design and develop better systems of assistance. I am open to what specific field or industry where that might take place.
Hobbies: Reading about and hearing other people’s experiences (memoirs, narratives, cultural studies, podcasts), exploring neighborhoods, drawing, printmaking, photography, painting, making things, drinking tea, and just trying new things. I’d love to travel abroad more, but for now I’m trying to take in as much as I can with what’s around me.
Fun / Interesting Fact: I don’t actually know how to pronounce my name! My parents claim they found “Minnar” in a baby book and it means bright future in German. My brother claims they made it up. Because my parents are Chinese immigrants, at home they call me “Ming Na,” a Chinese transliteration of my English name. Nobody calls me by my Chinese name, “Yin Ming.” The first friend I made in kindergarten was a blonde, very southern-California “valley girl.” When she looked at my nametag, she pronounced it “Minya.” When we went to class, the teacher asked me how to pronounce my name and she responded for me. I was too shy to say anything! I didn’t feel like I could or wanted to explain how to pronounce the Chinese version my parents called me, so Minya has stuck ever since.