Waterloo now home to wave of Burmese refugees - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo now home to wave of Burmese refugees


More than 200 refugees from Burma, also known as Myanmar, have come to work at Tyson Fresh Meats packing plant in Waterloo since May of 2010.

This comes 15 years after Bosnian refugees began migrating to Waterloo from Europe.

The Burmese refugees are now constantly adapting to life in the Cedar Valley.

Sunday afternoon, Waterloo saw its first Burmese wedding. It was at First Baptist Church.

Musicians from one Burmese tribe, dressed in traditional costume, provided the music for what, in many other ways, played out like a traditional American wedding.

Beyond the lacy train and excited young couple, however, this wedding took some explaining.

Rick Rustad is a chaplain with Tyson.

"There were several languages that were translated. Three or four different languages," he said.

He helps fulfill the spiritual and practical needs of the refugees.

"Health needs, the medical needs, everything from just trying to purchase a car to finding out where to go for services, finding homes," he said.

Many of these refugees are Christians, including the wedding's interpreter Kae Tin Thio, who is also an interpreter for Tyson.

"Because we are Christian, we have no right at all, and then because we are Chin, we have been racism or discriminated," he said. He left Burma in 2006 for what he said was religious and racial oppression.

"I still miss my country, because I was born there. I was brought up there," he said.

This Christian wedding would not be so easy back home in Burma, bride Linda Sung Chin said.

"This is really, really amazing for us, because in our country, we can't do, like, freely, Christmas, New Year or any kind of Christianity celebration, but here in the United States, we are free to do all kinds of marriage, Christmas, Thanksgiving, everything," she said.

These Burmese refugees did not start their American life in Iowa.

"The Cedar Valley is a second migration for all these Burmese," Rustad said. "They came in to Chicago or St. Louis or some other large city in America, and then they came here as a second stop."

It's a stop, he said, where he hopes they stay.

"We're really proud to be in United States, and we feel like our life is safe now and also our faith is safe now," Linda Sung Chin said.

In the basement of First Baptist Church in Waterloo, the tastes and sounds of Burma at the wedding reception made everyone feel right at home.

There are about 400 Burmese refugees in the Cedar Valley, between Tyson employees and their family members.

Most of these refugees still have family members back in Asia, many of whom remain in refugee camps.

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