Burma to the US, with music — a refugee’s story

a story from staff writer Molly Hicks

In 1992, Nay’s father was a travelling medic in Burma and he often enjoyed traveling alongside him. Today, Nay enjoys playing music in his church community and is a Case Manager in the Refugee and Immigration department at Catholic Family Center where he can continue his passion to help people. And being a former refugee himself — he confidently accomplishes just that even as he is still learning English.

“Freedom. This is my country. I belong here.”

In 1995, political conflict caused a civil war to break out in Burma. In the ensuing fighting thousands of villages were burned, Nay explained how his family spent periods in the jungles hiding before finally finding refuge in a Thailand camp; although living in the camp was not much better.

Talking to Nay, and listening to him describe the conditions of the camps, explaining how it felt as if living in a cage or a prison. His only joy was found when he went to school and started working with youth groups. I found it hard to believe, to not believe what he was saying, but more so to understand how easy our lives are in the United States. These things we call Fundamental Rights — the phrase has almost lost its true meaning in everyday speech. To us these are such a part of our paradigm of normal that everything not coinciding with these ingrained ideas is absurd and inhumane. I felt immediately humbled.

“Music saved my life.”

When Nay first arrived to Rochester in 2009 with his wife Ma Ri, he said he would ride the RTS bus to learn his way around the city and to absorb the cultural change of life here in the United States. Shortly thereafter, he began his work with Catholic Family Center as a per diem interpreter and quickly climbed the ladder into his current position as Case Manager. He and his wife are the proud parents of two children, dedicated college students, full time employees, ecstatic first time homeowners, and registered citizens.

When asked what inspires him, he stated: “Music saved my life. You can express your feelings and it gives a lot of positives back to you.” I pondered this thought for a moment and he continued to say:

“They will not know what it’s like,” he says about his children with the most serene and sincere look on his face.

You can see and hear more stories from former refugees and perhaps be inspired by their resilience and hope at www.SeeTheirStories.org


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