This is an edited version of a memoir from Htoo Ktray Wah, a college student who became a refugee to the United States from Thailand. I edited this document for the Green Card Voices which is a group that takes personal experiences written by the authors and puts them into a collection based on event and location.
By being part of the editing team for Green Card Voices, I was able to hone in on editing and narrative skills. I focused specifically on vernacular and native syntax in order to keep the natural voice of the writer at heart.
It was an extreme pleasure to be able to work with Green Card Voices on such an incredible project. I enjoyed reading and learning from the personal account assigned to me, and I’m looking forward to reading it in the Green Card Book. I think sharing your narrative and your story is so important.
My life in the refugee camp was easy. There was not a lot of work to do at school, and we had a school that we had to go to, but we had to pay for every grade that we attended. But if we failed a school grade, we had to pay a lot of money, and we couldn’t afford it. So some of us didn’t go to school. And the food, it was hard to find food. They give you food for the month like rice, bamboo to make a house, and coal to cook your food. My grandparents are farmers, so they also grew some vegetables. They planted food like squash and beans, and sugar cane. I lived there with my mother, father, brother, and sister. I was born in the Mae Kaew Ka camp, and I moved to Mae La Oon camp when I was two years old because my parents said that people in northern Thailand don’t like Karen people because they take their jobs and so that’s why they moved to Mae La Oon. It was hard to get out of the camp because it was not our country. If you wanted to get out, we had to ask for permission to get out. The jobs were hard to find. I didn’t know we would be going to the US because my father got us registered when we went to the Mae Sot for a medical check-up. After my dad told us we were registered for the resettlement that’s when we figured out it was for us to go to the US.
I remember we had the health check-up, to see whether we have diseases or not. After all the checkups we waited for another year in Mae La Oon, and we heard the news that we cannot go to the U.S. because of a big earthquake and tsunami in that happened in Japan. That was in 2011. We waited for three months in the camp in Thailand, and then we came back. We stayed there for one week, and then we went to the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok. After that, we went to a hotel, and we waited for two or three hours. Then we went to the airport. We were supposed to go from Thailand to Japan the first time, but then the tsunami happened. When we left for a second time, we went to Germany. We walked in a group with other people, I don’t know who they were, but they were looking at us. I was embarrassed because I was little, 9 years old, and I don’t even remember. We went inside the airplane. I didn’t think it was an airplane because it looked different and I never saw one before. When we rode the airplane, it was hard. It was up in the sky, we never rode anything before, and when I had to use the bathroom, I didn’t know where it was or where to look for it. I didn’t know how to ask. We didn’t get any food on the plane. They gave us one cookie that was it, and we were really hungry. When we arrived in Michigan, it was night time. We went to an apartment. We could not sleep because we missed our home, and I was crying a lot. I was the first one who cried in the family. My parents were very sad too, especially my dad. We didn’t have any other family, and when we went to school, there were no Karen people, and I didn’t speak English, so I didn’t talk to people, and I had to sit by myself and eat alone.
The most surprising thing for me was when we went to the store. It was big. There was a lot of food. It’s not like Thailand and the refugee camp. The cashier that takes our money scans our food differently. When we saw snow for the first time, it was cool. Our only relatives lived about 30 minutes away by car. We didn’t have any other family that lived in the apartment building with us, and no other Karen people. There were other ethnic groups, but no Karen people. That’s why we decided to move to Texas because there is a large Karen community living in the area around Austin, Texas. We went to Texas by car. We stayed
for 5 years. Texas is a state where I have a close family where we can live together. When we moved to Wisconsin, it was because I have four to five relative from my father and mother side. That’s why we moved to Milwaukee. We’ve been here for two years now. I’m in 11th grade now. I like English class because it’s easy. We read stories, and we have to solve problems like math or science. I like to go to this school because I have Karen friends here and I can make new friends that speak the same language as me. I came to this school 2 years ago when I was in 9th grade. After school, I stay for College Possible, and then I go home. I don’t have any part-time job. I want to go to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when I graduate from high school. I would like to travel to Korea; that’s the only place I like. When I would watch K-drama, that’s where I want to go the most, to Korea. When I first came here, I didn’t know about anything. When I started watching the South Korean television series called the Dream High that when I began to like K-Pop and Korea more, and I still like it now. I love the music the most. There are a lot of bands I like and they’re dancing style, and they’re sound of the song. I like how they’re dance powerful, and their voice.