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Immigration: One Thing

One Thing: A Chat With the Producers

Bill Radke

Marc Sanchez

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From Sudan to Omaha
(Kara Oehler & Ann Hepperman)
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Bill Radke: What are we listening to?

Kara Oehler: We're listening to Ro Tluangneh. He's a refugee in Indianapolis, Ind. He and his family are Burmese Chin. He's singing a song he wrote about a girl - it's a love song, but it's in his native Chin language.

Ann Heppermann: Actually we interviewed his father, but we wanted to include Ro just because he came about six or seven years after his father. And he had some stories about what it was like to adjust as a high school teenager.

Oehler: He said that between passing periods, when he was first going to school, he didn't understand what anyone was saying, and he would go, in the passing periods, and cry between classes. I think a lot of the high school students we talked to had the same kind of experience.

What's a story of how some of these refugees are dealing with the big differences between where they've come from and where they are now?

Heppermann: The Burundians are a real new population that are being settled here in the United States, and one of the cities that they're going to is Phoenix. We talked with a group of men, who were very newly arrived refugees, who had been there - some even just a couple of weeks, some a few months. For them it was a really recent experience of this transition from Africa. One of the guys had this pretty hilarious story of what Phoenix was going to be like:

"One of the staff told him that Phoenix was even hotter than Africa, and the sun is very warm. I really found it to be the reality. There all also other people that live in Phoenix, I'm not the first one. And luckily they have technology that can convert that heat into cold."

Technology that converts heat into cold, meaning air conditioning.

Oehler and Heppermann: Exactly. Yes.

Heppermann: We were meeting all sorts of people in the Burundian community and talking to them about their first impressions, especially in Phoenix. Cars all over the place. They were still taken aback with how many cars there were.

How did you find these stories?

Oehler: We worked through social service agencies. We worked through Lutheran Family Services and Church World Service.

Hepperman: And Catholic Charities. A lot of the organizations that directly deal with and resettle the refugees.

Oehler: But then there was one situation where we had worked through a social service agency in Amarillo, Texas, and we had five interviews set up in the course of three days. We were checking into our hotel, and we both started talking to the front desk clerk. She asked what we were doing. We said we were interviewing refugees, and she said, "Well, you should interview me. I'm a refugee. I'm from Afghanistan." So we ended up cancelling all our interviews and just spending the whole weekend with her family.

Heppermann: Leena and her family were so wonderful and open, and they had never met us. Here's some of her story:

"Two weeks after when I came from Afghanistan, my mom took us shopping, which was Wal-Mart. And my little sister, she asked me [if] I could take her to the bathroom. And I couldn't read English, which is where's the bathroom is. Finally, I see a door, and I open the door. And the whole Wal-Mart start[ed] beeping. The emergency alarm came on. All the people with the blue vests [came] around me. I was really scared - really, really scared. And I didn't know what to do or tell them that I was just looking for the bathroom. That was the most embarrassing part of coming to America."

You mentioned that Leena was very open with you. Were there stories that you were reluctant to share with us on the radio?

Heppermann: Both Kara and I were extremely moved by how willing people were willing to share with us some really horrendous things that happened to them.

Oehler: I just hope, if anything comes out of this series, it's that people can have some sort of personal connection. On the news every day you see pictures of war and conflict, and I think it's hard to have a personal connection to that.

One of the great themes running through the series was music. So many people shared their songs, their music with you.

Heppermann: On our first trip to Portland, we actually had a group of Somali Bantus who gathered together in their apartment and sang and danced for us for about two or three hours.

Oehler: It was amazing.

Heppermann: Instruments they had made.

Oehler: Instruments they had made out of a bed post and motorcycle brake wires. It was amazing. The same thing happened in Phoenix. We walked into a room and we asked to hear some stories of your culture and your journey here. They said, what we'd really like to do is sing you some songs.

Heppermann: As it was translated for us, what they're singing is, "They have climbed these high hills. They have come so far. And they are thankful to God that they've been able to finally make it to where they are."

Oehler: One thing that every single person said to us was that they still have people back in other countries. Everyone that we interviewed were hoping that somehow, from this interview, people would realize that their family members were in other countries and they could be brought here.

Heppermann: I think that they just want people to know they're here, and maybe we should all be listening to their stories.

More stories from our Immigration: One Thing series

Comments

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  • By judy meyer

    From Wilmington, NC, 12/26/2014

    My parents escaped from Hungary in 1956 during the Revolution with just the clothes on their back. I asked my mother what the one thing she brought , her answer "your sister". My sister was a baby,not everyone escaped with their children , often leaving them behind with grandparents. Very grateful they were brave to escape with my sister.

    By judy meyer

    From Wilmington, NC, 12/26/2014

    My parents escaped from Hungary in 1956 during the Revolution with just the clothes on their back. I asked my mother what the one thing she brought , her answer "your sister". My sister was a baby,not everyone escaped with their children , often leaving them behind with grandparents. Very grateful they were brave to escape with my sister.

    By judy meyer

    From Wilmington, NC, 12/26/2014

    My parents escaped from Hungary in 1956 during the Revolution with just the clothes on their back. I asked my mother what the one thing she brought , her answer "your sister". My sister was a baby,not everyone escaped with their children , often leaving them behind with grandparents. Very grateful they were brave to escape with my sister.

    By cariema brown

    From newark, NJ, 12/04/2009

    Hi my name is cariema and i would love to sing but i have not found any body to help me sing or help my structure become better i can sind but i wanna be great not oh i can sing i want to think i now i can sing so thats why im contacting you over comments pllllleeeaaasssseeeeee Thank you if you can help. if you cant can you give me some phone numbers were i can contact producers

    By cariema brown

    From newark, NJ, 12/04/2009

    Hi my name is cariema and i would love to sing but i have not found any body to help me sing or help my structure become better i can sind but i wanna be great not oh i can sing i want to think i now i can sing so thats why im contacting you over comments pllllleeeaaasssseeeeee Thank you if you can help. if you cant can you give me some phone numbers were i can contact producers

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