Eh Kler

Transcript of Eh Kler
Interviewee: Eh Kler
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Place: North Shore Baptist Church, 5344 N Lakewood Avenue, Chicago, IL
Date: June 29, 2014
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Total Time: 14:53 minutes

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today is Sunday June 29, 2014. I’m at North Shore Baptist Church interviewing Eh Kler. Did I pronounce that correctly?

EK: Yes.

DN: Eh Kler is a member of the Karen people and he was born in Burma and he’s willing to share some of his experiences with us. So I’d like to start by asking you how old you are now, Eh Kler?

EK: Now I am 20 years old.

DN: 20 years. And you were born in Burma in a little village. Can you tell us what the name of the little village was?

EK: The village was Le Poke Lo. LePoke Village.

DN: And could you tell us a little bit about your village and your family there?

EK: Le Poke Lo village. It was a small village, very little, 50 households and basically we don’t have electric, water, or anything like that. We just got water in the river because we live near the river and I have a lot of experience there. I mean I grew up there. I mean, it’s my village. so….


DN: What were some of the things you would do as a little boy in the village?

EK: Probably go out hunting. Hunting is my favorite. And fishing, because I really love it. You get to see a lot of friends there and very often after we go to there, we go hunting. It’s like moths, birds, something like that. And yes. And also fish, yes.

DN: What would you use to fish with?

EK: We use, I don’t know how to call it, it’s like a knife but we have a rubber on it and we do this (making a casting movement). I don’t know how to call it in English. Basically we have a knife in the front, or nail, and then we put a rubber or something like that and then we do that (making the casting motion again).

DN: And then once you got the fish, what would you do with it?

EK: Basically we would go back and gave to our parents. Our parents, they figured out, you know, when should we cook it? Because it’s up to them. Usually they cook for us. They make our daily meal. It’s like a tradition. Usually parents are head of the clan. So our parents, they take care of everything.

DN: And how many people were in your family?

EK: Usually maybe four or five, but I forgot all about it.


DN: And then what happened that made you leave the village?

EK: After I leave the village I wanted to … another…. I moved to a refugee camp in Burma, and then in Thailand. Yeah. After that, I moved to Thailand refugee camp.

DN: Did your whole family go with you?

EK: No. I just came with my aunt and uncle.

DN: That was Paw Say Ku’s family?

EK: No, different family.

DN: Different family. So you left behind your mother and father, your grandparents?

DK: Yeah. My family, my parents, didn’t seem to ….

DN: And why did you feel you needed to go to the refugee camp?


EK: Because the first thing was education. The first thing is to have a good education and to then experience different places. And because it’s not safe to stay in Burma. So I did (unintelligible) to get out of Burma to Thailand. And then to get a good education.

DN: How did you feel in the refugee camp, to be with your uncle and aunt and leave your family in the village?

EK: It’s very hard to leave because you can’t get a job easily. And you don’t have the right to go out, because you are a refugee people. You had to have an ID in order to work. And this may it hard for our family to survive.


DN: What year did you come to the United States?

EK: I came to the United States in 2008. February.

DN: 2008? So you’ve been here almost seven years?

EK: Yes, almost seven years.

DN: Who was the agency that brought you here?

EK: It was Heartland Alli….

DN: Heartland Alliance?

EK: Yes, Heartland Alliance. They were my sponsors.

DN: And once you arrived here, who did you live with?

EK: I live with my aunt and uncle because they were my guardians.

DN: And how did you find life here different?


EK: Life here is… It’s different from there. The first day. It’s difficult: the challenges I faced; the family, the language. I think the language, because usually in the city of Chicago, it’s really hard to get a job if you don’t speak the language. And I think…. And it’s really hard to make a friend when you go to school for myself. It’s really hard to fit in the culture here, and… yeah.

DN: Did you speak any English when you came to the U.S.?

EK: Not really. I just know a little numbers and the alphabet and “Hello. How are you?” Just like that. Not more.

DN: What school did you go to?

EK: First I started eighth grade at McCutcheon Elementary School and then I moved to Nicholas [Senn] as a high school.

DN: Well it seems as though your English has improved a lot since you came.

EK: Yeah, definitely.

DN: Who was helping to welcome you to the community when you first came besides your aunt and uncle? Were there other people who helped you?


EK: The first… not really. This church, they gave a donation for other places… And I came here to get a shirt or anything like that to prepare for winter. Because when I came here it was winter, so it was really cold. And we didn’t have any jacket so they gave us the jacket and the gloves.


DN: When you were at school at McCutcheon was it easy to make friends, or hard to make friends?

EK: Oh, not really, I still remember…. I almost cried because there were no Karen people, no Karen kids there. And it was really hard. Because I still short. I was short, so mostly the other kids were really tall and big. So I was kind of surprised. And then they don’t make friends with me. They be just like that. They just say “No” to me, like that. They ignore me.

DN: What about when you went to high school? Was it easier in high school?

EK: High school? I have a couple of friends there that speak Karen. And I feel very happy because I made a friend from different countries, just like me. Just like me. So I always feel very happy because I was not alone. I have friends. I still have people now… who doesn’t speak English and learn, just like me, and I feel more happy and motivated to learn and to have fun.

DN: Because there were more people like you who had the same struggle?

EK: Yeah.


DN: You were telling me that when you were in Burma, your family was animist. Could you yell us a little bit about that?

EK: Basically, you get…. Once a year a year the family would gather. Different relatives. The family would gather and make a celebration, an anniversary, something like that. It’s a religious tradition. And we would prepare food and we worship.

DN: And now you are a member of the North Shore Baptist Church, the Karen group. Could you tell us why you made that change?

DK: Because I believe. I believe. I need to change to something different. I feel like this because I came to here, it’s not a normal thing in your life. So I feel blessed to be here. And to become a member here.

DN: When you first came to North Shore Baptist, did you come because of the religion, or because you knew there were other Karen people coming?

EK: There are other Karen people coming over here. When I was in the camp, I went to take vows…. I still go and learn, grow and learn about Christians and their belief in God; to have a faith. So after that… when I was little, I go to church every week and I like to learn about it. So every year we would have a competition about the Burma (unintelligible). And also I went to mission school when I was in camp. So yeah.

DN: What is there about this community that you find special?

EK: Here in Chicago?

DN: Well, North Shore Baptist Church or where you live with your aunt and uncle? Smaller. Smaller. Not Chicago in general, but the neighborhood you live in or this church that you come to. Is there anything special about it for you?


EK: Well there’s the neighborhood where I live. Mostly we have Karen people who live there. We like to live close.

DN: Do you feel that there any traditions or customs from your village that you would like to see continue with families in America?

EK: Yeah, definitely. I cannot forgot what I’ve been through. And the problem of who I am. To be here. Not just to forget everything about my past. I should be proud of myself and not to lose all the culture. Not American. I won’t forgot where I came from…. Like that.

DN: Are you an American citizen now?

EK: Yes, I am.

DN: So would you consider yourself an American or a Karen, or both?

EK: That’s really hard, but I would consider myself both. Both. Because when I am in the United States, I am a U.S. citizen. When I go back there, I feel like I am more Karen, you know. So I think I am both. Both.

DN: What would you say is the important part of your Karen heritage?

EK: There is a culture and a language to show people who you are. And then, I think it is very important the culture to just … once a week…when you are going to…. Me, I like to show my culture, not my culture, my Karen (unintelligible) and how beautiful and how proud I am, you know? Every time when I go to different places mostly people say, “You look great. (unintelligible) to share.” (unintelligible) It’s beautiful. I’m proud to wear it.

DN: Years from now when you have your own family, what would you tell your children about the Karen people?


EK: I would told my…. I say, I would make a plan every month and we have a family meeting like this to just (unintelligible) everyone doing…to share my experience in order not to forget where we came from…who I am. Like that. Yeah.

DN: Is there anything else you would like to share with us while we are taking?

EK: Yeah. My goal is to… I would say after I graduate college, I probably would start working… maybe six years. And then I might go back to Burma to work with underprivileged kids and to improve the education there. To motivate. To be motivated. You know, I’m the only person in my village that graduate college and I go to high school, elementary here. So I’m proud…So I’d like to go back and share my experience. Every day to help over there.

DN: What college are you going to?

EK: Now I’m at Northeastern.


EN: Northeastern. Now when you go back to Burma, would you go back to the village?

EK: I think first I would go back to Thailand. Then if everything goes well, I would go back to Burma where I came from to the village where I still know a lot of people there. There’s a school, you know. I might work with the school to improve….

DN: So you have a very strong tie in your heart for the people in the village.

EK: Yeah. I have a strong people about my people…. I can never forgot it. I shouldn’t forgot it, you know. I shouldn’t forgot because I’m here. So I have an opportunity to help make a change in the village. I shouldn’t forget it.

DN: To me, that sounds like a very important goal and almost a mission. Almost a mission for you. So I wish you much success in achieving that goal. Thank you very much for sharing with us.

EK: Thank you very much.