Indianapolis has often been referred to as the crossroads of America. Located in the center of a vast interstate network, the city serves as a geographical bridge between the East and the West. Culturally, it is no different; for the past two decades, Indianapolis has become the home to more and more Burmese refugees looking to begin a new life in the West.
In the 1990’s, two men fled from Burma to India and eventually arrived in the United States in hopes of receiving theological training. Those two men would create a ripple effect that would draw more than 10,000 Chin refugees to Indianapolis’s South side. One small church has grown to about 40 congregations, many businesses, and has unofficially dubbed the Southport/Perry Township area “Chindianapolis”.
Our Burmese staff interpreter, Caroline Mawite, comes from the Chin State of Burma. As we sat down to lunch a few weeks ago, she described to me the setting that many in the Chin community fled. She spoke of political unrest, poverty, and religious persecution. “A lot of Chins that are here are here because they are Christian- the Chin State is 98% Christian. So there is a lot of discrimination.” These numbers are flipped on their heads when compared to the general Burmese population- only about 2% Christian.
This religious discrimination creates harsh economic realities as well, as people of religious minorities are turned away from jobs. The combination of fear, poverty, and lack of opportunity lead many to flee. “People become poorer and poorer and there is no opportunity, so they flee to Malaysia or India and take refuge as a refugee,” she explained to me.
Luckily, as the Chin population in Indianapolis continues to grow, those newly arrived now have more resources than ever to begin their new lives in the United States, including a large network of local interpreters. However, often those arriving face a new, very different challenge: they must now find a way to bridge a vast cultural divide.
In Caroline’s work as an interpreter at LTC, she has seen these cultures collide often. Frequently, it takes the form of silence. “In Burma, people are afraid to be open,” she told me. “I explain to them, ‘This is America. You don’t have to worry. If you need something, you have to speak up.’”
Caroline takes her role as the voice for the refugee population seriously. “I do more than I am supposed to do when I am interpreting,” she tells me. She follows this with stories of staying late to work to help her clients make phone calls, arrange transportation, or schedule follow-up appointments. She makes sure that her clients truly understand their situations, often taking the time to explain any documentation they’ve been given thoroughly before they step foot out of the door.
Caroline’s dedication, as well as the dedication of many more Burmese interpreters in the Indianapolis area, has softened the transition into a new life for many refugees. An advocate who is able to see through the lens of both cultures is an absolutely invaluable resource in what is often a trying time. We at LTC are proud of hardworking interpreters like Caroline who work every day to create meaningful connections in the lives of the clients they serve.
-Casey Buchanan, Assistant Marketing Coordinator