English and Ice Cream: A Story of One Family's Journey
Asked about the biggest challenge his family faced upon their arrival in the United States, Hya Myint describes the language barrier, and his limited ability to speak English, to which his son Kawng was quick to quip, “not for me!”
By Megan O'Brien, NSC Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience Case Manager
Hya Myint Hla is a Burmese refugee who arrived in Philadelphia in March 2015, with his wife, Aye Hnin Phyu and son Kawng. Since their arrival, the family has grown, with the birth of a second son, Nyi Shin, this past winter.
Spending 11 years in Malaysia, where he worked as a forklift driver, Hya Myint says it was a huge relief when his family was finally approved to come to the U.S. He takes a lot of pride in himself and his family for making the challenging transition to the United States. Both Hya Myint and Aye Hnin express that they are here for their children: it is their hope that their children will be able to access a high quality education in this country.
Asked about the biggest challenge his family faced upon their arrival in the United States, Hya Myint describes the language barrier, and his limited ability to speak English, to which his son Kawng was quick to quip, “not for me!” Enrolling in a local public school in south Philadelphia, Kawng has quickly adapted to American culture, and is about to enter the 7th grade in the fall. His dad describes the difficult balance required in trying to maintain ties to Burmese culture and exposing his children to religious and cultural traditions, while also allowing his children to engage in mainstream American culture. Hya says that the best way he manages this is by keeping “school at school, and home at home”—meaning that he expects his children to follow the rules of American culture and to learn about American practices from their school environment, while at home, Hya and Aye make an effort to cook Burmese cuisine, to teach their children about the importance of respect for elders, and to expose their children to Buddhist practices. Kawng seems to do a good job balancing these two cultures—he speaks English fluently and enjoys drawing (specifically, he says he wants to be a graffiti artist when he grows up), but he also is very close to his parents and often helps them with interpretation and understanding English.
The 7 month old baby, Nyi Shin, is also adapting to American life. Recently, his parents took the family out for ice cream, and Nyi Shin’s older brother gave him a bite of his cone. Apparently Nyi Shin liked the ice cream a little too much and wanted more! When asked whether his family will continue to grow, Hya smiles and says yes, they will have one more child: a girl.