July 11, 2009

Teaching stereotypes to Burmese

Volunteers help refugees assimilate in the South Bay

By Mayra Flores De MarcotteFor the past seven months, Santa Clara County has served as a makeshift classroom for volunteers teaching Po Chris (pronounced Po-Kri) and his family how to assimilate into American life—including such basics like how to flush a toilet, flip on a light switch and ride a bus.

The transition from the family's small Burmese jungle village with no electricity or running water to an apartment in the city of Campbell has been a challenging, but welcome, change for the refugees who arrived in California last November by charter plane from Melee, one of nine Burmese refugee camps in Thailand.
And:The two worked on a lesson plan on the Native Americans, and Thar Hto Lay's eyes grew big as he looked at the pictures of tepees and bow and arrows.

"Do you know what a bow and arrow is?" asks Finigan.

The teenager just looks up at him and shakes his head.

"They are used to hunt. Do you hunt back in Burma? Or do they use guns?" he ask.

"They use guns," Thar Hto Lay says quietly.
Comment:  This stereotypical teaching isn't limited to Burmese immigrants in our society. I'm guessing it's fairly common throughout America. Parents, teachers, and other authorities point to "tepees and bow and arrows" and say, "Look, Indians!"

For more on the subject, see The Basic Indian Stereotypes.

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