By Dr. Surya C. Gnyawali, PhD
Background and Introduction: Due to its demographics, which include a mix of races and a wide range of incomes, as well as urban, suburban, and nearby rural areas, Columbus is considered a “typical” American city, leading retail and restaurant chains to use it as a test market for new products. (The Columbus Dispatch, December 5, 2006).
Meantime, the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese became the victims of the ethnic cleansing policy of the eighties in Bhutan. Bhutan introduced “one nation one people” policy in 1985 which ultimately undermined the cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage of the people of the south who are minority Hindus in a majority Buddhist nation. With the introduction of the policy, many were jailed, killed or exiled in the 1980s. Others fled to Nepal, where some stayed in refugee camps for 20 years before getting the opportunity to resettle in other countries such as the United States of America.
Although in the beginning people were resettled in different States and Cities, through internal migration (secondary and tertiary), Columbus now has the highest Bhutanese population anywhere outside Bhutan.
Over 100,000 people were forcefully expelled who were deemed unworthy under the new policy from the land where they have spent more than five generations. After spending about two decades in the UN refugee camps in eastern Nepal, the only option out of repartition and assimilation, third country resettlement process started in 2008. So far nearly 90 thousand have been resettled in the United States, Canada and six other nations with a share of over 15,000 (www.bccoh.org).
Although in the beginning people were resettled in different States and Cities, through internal migration (secondary and tertiary), Columbus now has the highest Bhutanese population anywhere outside Bhutan. There is a steady growth, and it is projected to reach 30,000 in the next five years. Currently, the Ohio State University estimates 23,437 Bhutanese-Nepali in central Ohio. Columbus city has a largest expatriate Bhutanese-Nepali population in the world as of 2018. The largest population of Bhutanese-Nepalese living outside their South Asian country in the eastern Himalayas is concentrated on north side Columbus. After they settled in Ohio, they formed an organization “Bhutanese-Nepali Community Central Ohio” (BCCO), a nonprofit organization that supports the more than 23,500 Bhutanese-Nepalese, the city’s second-largest refugee population (The Columbus Dispatch, Sep 26, 2018).
In the beginning years, refugees face unique employment challenges given language barriers, cultural factors, immigration status, and past experiences of employment. These challenges may be compounded by the urgency of their situation, transition to new spaces, and limited opportunity to network with family members at home or elsewhere. Further, racial discrimination and labor exploitation of immigrant/refugee population has been a recurring phenomenon in among the communities. Despite these social and structural disadvantages faced by refugees surrounding work, working conditions and employment, there remains significant gaps in the literature explicating the linkages between employment precariousness and structural vulnerability factors that impede the overall mental well-being of refugees.
While economic self-sufficiency, adaptation, and integration of refugees to the U.S. economic and financial systems are central to refugee resettlement programs, employment precariousness and its impact on refugee well-being, particularly mental health and well-being remains largely under investigated. These gaps are particularly salient in the context of Bhutanese refugee population, where there is limited research on their experiences with work, employment conditions, structural vulnerability and adverse mental well-being. While members of the Bhutanese refugee community are recruited in low-end jobs, the insecure and precarious nature of employment compounded by factors such as, racial discrimination, low pay, poor conditions of work, fewer hours of work and insecure employment condition continually elevate collective anxiety among the population. Investigation of the relationship between precarious work, structural vulnerability factors and mental well-being will provide a nuanced understanding of the mental health vulnerabilities in the migration context and provide program and policy implications related to refugee resettlement as well as immigrant inclusion efforts in local and national settings.
In this article, a current socio-economic and cultural status with political standing of the community will be discussed and future directions will be highlighted in both the settings. Lastly, a neo-sociopolitical highway of hope will be discussed.
Current socio-economic and cultural status: Social and economic conditions are directly or indirectly connected to the well-being of the community. The community-based study shows the prevalence of chronic diseases among 18-65-year-old Bhutanese refugee resettled in Northeast Ohio (PMID: 24849870). The overall length of time in the US was not associated with the prevalence of the chronic conditions. The chronic conditions may be significant health issues among US resettled Bhutanese refugees and a larger population-based study to confirm the findings is warranted. While overtime, the economic conditions improved, with some deviation in the parameters such as culture, religion, and Nepali language especially in the young generation. The old generation (>50 years) is wondering what would happen to the social parameters if they can’t handover to new generation in a proper way.
The efforts to handing over the new generation are underway. Nepali language classes for grades One to Five are undergoing with at least two (Westerville and Reynoldsburg) such schools are open during weekends. These schools have cultural dance and fitness classes for kids and some low literate older population. It is to be noted that many Ohioans are interested in learning Nepali language as well considering a huge demand of the Nepali to English language interpreters. I was excited to teach a few of them for example.
Healthy living styles are also changing. The need for lifestyle and dietary change education programs among this new and vulnerable group to reduce the prevalence of excess body weight and abdominal obesity and their health consequences (Bhatta, Assad et al. 2014) seems to be essential. Although studies have shown that human migration is one of the risk factors for the spread of drug-resistant organisms among refugee populations in the US are lacking. A potential need for such surveillance among people living in Ohio is realized as a potential need to devise appropriate public health measures to mitigate the risk imposed by community-associated strains of microorganisms (Kadariya, Thapaliya et al. 2019) needs be highlighted among the community.
Female populations are at risk for experiencing significant hardships associated including after resettlement. For women, the strength of their personal social networks can play an important role in mitigating the stress of resettlement and can be an influential source of support during specific health events, such as pregnancy. These guide future research, as well as public health programming, that seeks to improve the pregnancy experiences of resettled women (D, M et al. 2018).
Future of the socio-cultural situation: “The Impact of Refugees in Central Ohio report confirms that the growing new American populations contribute to the cultural richness and enhance the economic growth and development of Columbus. The growth rate of the immigrant/refugee population in Columbus has also posed certain challenges for the city infrastructure in meeting the basic living necessities in a culturally sensitive manner. Some of these challenges include language barriers and education, fair and affordable housing, healthcare and employment. This report helps us to pinpoint these issues in order to better address them. Columbus has always been an inclusive city. We accept and appreciate those from all cultures and backgrounds. It’s what makes Columbus the best place to live, work and raise a family” (www.crisohio.org, M. Coleman, Mayor, City of Columbus). This statement indicates Columbus, a very fertile land for this community. Although challenges remain to face which every society has in a small or a lager extent. Many young students in the community are going to 4-year colleges, medical schools, and nursing programs. They Publish Nepali language magazine. They have been running their own radio channels and community service programs such as BRAVE which is committed to serve voluntarily to the sufferers in the current COVID-19 Pandemic situations. This scenario predicts the future of the socio-cultural situation. That means the ‘Sun’ was in the west horizon at the time when they were in the camps to resettlement in the west now the ‘Sun’ is raising back to east with brighter rays of hopes.
Current political standing: This community has realized that politics was the reason why they were forced out of their country Bhutan and grew up in refugee camps in Nepal under “terrible” conditions. Nowadays, as city of Reynoldsburg has changed drastically in the past five years, Bhuwan Pyakurel thought he was someone who can be the voice of an entire community. In Columbus, more than 23,500 Nepali-Bhutanese reside. They are the city’s second-largest immigrant population. His election to the position has been an emotional experience. While being the first elected Nepali-Bhutanese, a council man in a city of US is good, it also comes with a heavy responsibility (Akron Beacon Journal, Jan 2020). Kashi Adhikari an inter-Democratic party candidate to state representative earned significant number of votes of Primary election in March 2020. Final primary election results show incumbent Ohio House Representative defeating primary challenger Kashi Adhikari for his District 22 seat. (Columbus Jewish News, Apr 29, 2020). These data in politics are encouraging to the community, especially to new generation.
Political highway to future: The modern political party system in the U.S. is dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress to some extent since at least 1856. There are numerous minor parties such as Libertarian, Green, Reform, Independent and other parties have won elections throughout history at different levels, but the success of those parties is sparse.
Founded as the Democratic Party in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, it is the oldest extant voter-based political party in the world whereas founded in 1854 by Northern anti-slavery activists and modernizers, the Republican Party rose to prominence in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln, who used the party machinery to support victory in the American Civil War. Since then the two major political parties switching one after another for the presidency and the majority in the house and the senate. In general, it is hard for someone whether to be a voter of the Democratic or Republican Party. However, it is one’s right to choose one party in some election and switch to the other in the next time depending on the presidential candidates’ policy for the national benefit. Therefore, for certain south Asian communities such as Bhutanese-Nepali in Ohio, it is very important that they have their own organization, which not only helps in the socio-economic developments but also helps in decision making during election times. It is very important that all south Asian population establish an organization such as South Asian American Advocacy Forum (SAAAF). The primary objective of SAAAF is to advocate for the social, economic, and political advancement of South Asian Americans primarily in Ohio.
Summarizing: Most of the Bhutanese American population has the opportunity to make a significant impact in the upcoming presidential elections in Ohio. The Bhutanese American’s are very politically sensitive and competent, understand the Democracy. So, they should elect one of their own candidates. If I did not exaggerate, they are the ‘honeybees’, they promptly tend to take care of one another, culturally and languages interpretation. They are still actively providing services through BRAVE. Bhutanese Americans are eager to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The only thing is, they need proper guidance to decide whom to vote or who the right candidate in their favor is. This is why there is the need of an organization called “South Asian American Advocacy Forum (SAAAF) to educate regarding elections, voter registration, and voting rights.
Conclusions: In conclusion, every community has its own identity and Bhutanese-Nepali Community bears the identity of the entire south Asian identity. This unique identity should be nicely transferred to new generation. Young generation can share the American socio-economic culture, however, should not leave their identity carried by their parents and grandparents. The reality is that the political future is bright for this community more than any other community at least in Ohio through the newly established organization SAAAF. (Dr. Surya C. Gnyawali, PhD is at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)
Bhatta, M. P., et al. (2014). “Socio-demographic and dietary factors associated with excess body weight and abdominal obesity among resettled Bhutanese refugee women in Northeast Ohio, United States.” Int J Environ Res Public Health 11(7): 6639-6652.
D, M. K., et al. (2018). “The Personal Social Networks of Resettled Bhutanese Refugees During Pregnancy in the United States: A Social Network Analysis.” J Community Health 43(6): 1028-1036.
Kadariya, J., et al. (2019). “Multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus Colonization in Healthy Adults Is more Common in Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal than Those Resettled in Ohio.” Biomed Res Int 2019: 5739247.
Nepal, and a potential need to devise appropriate public health measures to mitigate the risk imposed by community-associated strains of S. aureus and MRSA.