Welcoming the new Buffalo: a celebration
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • November 02, 2011 @ 7:00pm
Before arriving in Buffalo, many in the Queen City’s newest cultural wave lived through pure terror and oppression. Civil wars, refugee camps, extreme poverty or dictatorial government inhibited daily life, and mere survival and protecting family members were the daily goals, not hammering out the next office report while browsing through Pandora. I can’t even begin to relate.
The new wave of refugees and immigrants in Buffalo, hailing primarily from Burma, the Kingdom of Bhutan and Iraq, have bittersweet feelings about their new environment. Yes, Western New York offers a fresh, safer opportunity with “American” freedoms, but at the same time, vast language barriers and cultural differences—combined with missing “home”—make adjustment a slow and frustrating, if necessary, process.
“Nothing is like home. I love to live [in Buffalo], [but] when I close my eyes, I miss my country. I can smell the rivers and the country roads and the mountains,” Burmese refugee Law Eh Soe said to the Buffalo News’ Gene Warner last year. If you’ve ever moved a fair distance in your life, you can sympathize with Eh Soe’s nostalgia on a smaller scale.
An opportunity to celebrate the “new Buffalo” arrives on Thursday at Asbury Hall in Babeville (341 Delaware Ave.). The “Buffalo Without Borders” event runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., and tickets cost $50. An impressive array of ethnic food options will be offered, including wine, Indian delights, cannolis and sushi.
In addition to munching on these treats, guests can appreciate the work of the International Institute of Buffalo (IIB), the group that strives to smoothly assimilate immigrants and refugees into the city’s fabric. The challenges, from adopting the English language to securing a job to self-sufficiency, are immense, and this dedicated and underexposed organization deserves ample credit.
By the IIB’s count, almost 900 Burmese have transitioned to WNY since 2006, and this mass migration has been comforting to refugees like Eh Soe, who mentioned the sheer number of Burmese as a reason for comfort, a feeling of “home.”
“It’s like a huge village from Burma has moved to Buffalo,” Eh Soe reflected.
“[Buffalo Without Borders] is a chance to celebrate how we came to our [present] lives,” he continued, “and how we’ve started to fit in with the culture here.”