LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) — She had dreams.
Dreams of one day living in a land where people knew freedom, where people would be accepted, and where people would be able to learn.
She spent many a day envisioning such a place. Until, that is, Sunday Htoo crossed the waters, landing on American soil with her husband and young daughter in tow. Today, she is ever-so-thankful of the ability to call the “Land of Opportunity” her home.
Seven years ago this December, Htoo arrived in the United States as a refugee. Growing up in Burma and then relocated to Thailand, she didn’t know what it was like to have the many freedoms that people in the States do. She couldn’t wander the streets alone, and she never had the chance to gain an education.
Living in a refugee camp in Thailand since 1997 never provided her such opportunities.
But in a relatively short time in this country, where she has resided in Logansport since 2013, Htoo has experienced such happiness that her giddiness is hard not to catch. With a laugh and a smile, her peace exudes to all those near. And what might be the most contagious is her love of this land.
“I feel like I never had a country of my own before,” she said.
Now, she does.
After one year of studying and preparing required paperwork, Htoo became a United States citizen in April 2020. And then, she cast her first vote in an American election.
“This was a goal of mine,” she said, laughing. “I had a voice. I got to say something, and people listen. But, oh, this made me so crazy.”
Staying up past daybreak on the Wednesday after Election Day, Htoo remained glued to the television and computer screens, tracking every electoral vote and adding the totals. When her husband, Hsa Mu Lei, daughter, Shee Nay Hsa, 9, and son, Kler Nay Hsa, 3, got up the next morning, they wanted to know who won the election.
“I couldn’t tell them,” Htoo exclaimed. “I was so excited about it, but this waiting … oh, this waiting.”
But just like the rest of the country, she held in for the long haul.
And just like so many others, she was disappointed her family wasn’t able to participate in Thanksgiving Day activities. For the last few years, she has cooked American food — her one day a year to do so — and has invited friends and family to sit down to a meal of turkey with potatoes and other sides.
Even with this disappointment, though, Htoo continues to express her gratitude. “I came here out of hope. I look forward to the job opportunities and education opportunities.”
Her husband works at Tyson, while she holds down two part-time jobs. Her children attend school, where they are able to do more than she ever could have imagined. “In Burma, there is public school, but only if you can afford it. Most cannot.”
“I want to see my children go to university.”
And in the future, it is her hope to return to her native land, where she would like to share what she and her family have learned. To maybe even set up a school that would be open to anyone who desires to expand his or her knowledge. She also wants her children to know their roots.
The family wouldn’t stay in Burma, she said, because America is their home. But she wants her children to experience everything they can in life. So years from now, when she hopes to make her final dream come true, Htoo stays grounded in knowing that her family has a lot to be thankful for.
Her children are experiencing more in life than she ever did in her childhood. Plus, they’re growing up in a land where opportunities are endless, said Htoo, and “where people really care about each other.”