Are the Karims really the only Rohingyas in Austin?
Since a friend left for Canada, they have never met any more members of their Muslim Aryan minority, who are profoundly oppressed in their native Myanmar.
“I don't know any other Rohingya family resettled in Austin,” says Houmma Garba, City of Austin language coordinator. “Catholic Charities of San Antonio resettled one or two there in 2017.”
“Census data are of no help because the Rohingya are technically stateless,” says Ryan Robinson, City of Austin demographer, “and come from several different countries — Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.”
It must be isolating to be the only Rohingya family in the area that speaks their language. Happily, Mohammad Karim and his wife Minatt picked up some Urdu and Burmese, first when he was in Thailand and later when they were in Malaysia. They also speak halting English.
Likely a fair amount of that came classes, but also from their daughter, Jannat, 7, and son Hashim, 6, who attend elementary school in Austin and speak American English as fluently as any native Austinite, as does their younger sister, Mariyam, 2, who attends a nursery school set up by iACT, the local interfaith nonprofit that nominated the family for the Statesman Season for Caring campaign.
Although there is virtually no furniture in the Karims’ living room, there is a TV, though not a very good one. Nevertheless, the children are fascinated by electronic devices and clearly learn a lot from them.
The children were born in Malaysia and the U.S., but their relatives back in Kyautaw, Myanmar, no longer have Internet service after a government crackdown, and few of them have phones.
The question of cultural dislocation is inevitable when dealing with refugees so far from their rural homes of origin. Luckily, they were settled in North Central Austin, where other Asian American communities have gathered.
“We shop at Chinese grocery stores,” Mohammad Karim says. “Chinese, Thai and Burmese food are close to our food. And everything we need is available.”
The family still has many things on their list, including furniture for the living room and dressers. They need clothing. a washer and dryer, a sheets, blankets and towels, an electric frying pan, area rugs, lamps, and driving lessons for Minatt, as well as gift cards to H-E-B, Walmart and Target.
Meanwhile, although the kids seem most comfortable speaking English, part of their heritage remains strong, despite the isolation.
Minatt indicates through a translator: “We speak Rohingya at home.”
To find out more about the Karim family or to give an item on their wish list, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org