Happy to be here, a Bhutanese family is resettled in Oakland, CA

This is the third in the troika of posts I mentioned yesterday about Bhutanese refugees arriving in the US (the first two are here and here).  This family has been resettled in “welcoming” Oakland, CA where we reported  just a couple of days ago that there has been an uptick in crime effecting refugees and immigrants.

First, more on the background of this Nepalese ethnic group which we will be resettling by the tens of thousands over the next five years (this article actually says we are taking the majority of the 100,000 living in camps in Nepal).   This is a lesson in the rise of ethnic nationalism, see Judy’s post on the topic more than a year ago.   From the Contra Costa Times:

Bhim Timsina had the most to say, sharing a long, bleak story about a kingdom that expelled a sixth of its people. “There became two types of people in Bhutan,” he said of his native country. His people — those of Nepali descent — were the type who had to leave.


Timsina was 8 years old when his family was expelled from the farmland they had ox-plowed for generations, a fertile seven acres that yielded rice, millet, buckwheat, cauliflower and spinach.

Their Nepali ancestors first migrated to Bhutan’s arable southern Chirang region as farmers in the late 19th century, and it was not until the 1980s that the Timsinas found themselves unwelcome there.

They were called Lhotshampas — the “People of the South.” They dressed differently from the Drukpa ethnic majority but had for years peacefully coexisted with them. They practiced Hinduism, not Buddhism. They spoke Nepali at home, not the national Dzongkha language. They lived in the warmer lowlands, not the northern Drukpa highlands that are considered the heart of the Himalayan country.

When the Bhutanese king enacted a policy called “One Nation, One People,” it enshrined Drukpa culture and made its traditions mandatory in Bhutanese schools and public life. Lhotshampas protested, fueling government claims that their expanding population, and feared alignment with Maoist rebels, could threaten the monarchy and Drukpa way of life.

And because official documents had no record of Timsina’s parents in a 1958 census, the family and tens of thousands of others were dubbed illegal immigrants and banished in the early 1990s.

Unlike the Iraqi refugees we have been writing about who are unhappy with life generally in the US, this refugee family is making the best of the tough times.  Although stressed about finances and jobs, and for the older generation not much contact with the outside world, this family will likely make it.

At the Timsina home in East Oakland, the climate has been a mix of optimism, frugality and nervous uncertainty.


But the happiness can be elusive. As the months have passed, Timsina said he has now come to believe that much of what he learned in Nepal “relates only to Nepal. Now, I realize it is quite difficult. Going to college, it is so costly. I cannot pay for that.”


In mid-May, he will have completed his first eight months in the country, meaning his federally-funded refugee cash assistance of $359 a month will expire. Fortunately, after impressing his teachers at The English Center, he was hired to work part-time after classes as an evening receptionist.


Timsina’s father, Bedha, 60, and mother, Lachhi, 50, have a few extra months of checks and food stamps because they arrived later, but they are less likely to find a job after their help expires.


“For my existence, I will do any kind of work,” Bhim Timsina said. “But I need to aim quite high.”

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