UNTOLD: Life Can Take You From Burma to Oakland

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This story is a part of Lit Mag: UNTOLD Issue.


I am a refugee from Burma. I’ve lived in the United States since 2011.

My parents were born in Burma. They grew up in a place called Karen State. Karen State is a beautiful place. We lived in a forest and in a village. In Karen State you can live free and wild. You can have good a time living in the forest. You can just go hunt animals without permission because it is your place. When you need food to eat you can go hunt. We have a lot of river water that you can just jump into and catch fish or frogs. The country was very calm and nice. Before we lived peacefully as a happy family but now we are running for our lives.

The problem is that my country is too beautiful a place. We have a lot of resources that the Burmese government wants for us. “Burma has been in a state of constant civil war since independence in 1948. Powerful elements within the Burman ethnic group, which is about 60 percent of the population” feels that they should control the country’s culture, land, and money. The fighting got really bad in 1995 leading to generations of families fleeing Burma. My family ran away in 2002 because of the war that took place and we wanted to find a better place to live.

We didn’t have healthcare, we didn’t have education systems and life was really hard. I was a victim stuck in the room that has no door. After six years the opportunity came for us to fill out immigration papers. That is when everything changed. New place, new world, and new life. I thank God that brought me here.

We took five airplanes to get to the United States and it was hard because we didn’t know anything about the U.S. We were tired after getting here. I was so surprised because when I looked around everything was shining and so beautiful and now I love living here. My dad works really hard to support our family because he is the only one who works and he doesn’t have time to go school, but my mom is going to school to learn English. And I think she tries really hard to be successful so she can earn an education and one day she will have a better job than my dad.

I have no more nightmares and no more tears. My life transformed from the worst to the best. I Started my new life in Oakland, California with no friends and no money. I got my butt kicked on the first day of school. Not thinking I would succeed, students laughed at me like I was a comedian when I tried to say something they don’t understand. My mom used to tell me, you always have to be humble. No matter who you are, no matter where you go. After working really hard. I’m a rock star, and I’m receiving an award. I’m thankful. I feel big and successful.

I want to tell this story because refugee people live a different life and have different struggles. Life can take you anywhere but you have to believe that everything will be the best for you. There will be no rainbow without rain. My family is poor but we don’t worry about how poor we are because we’re blessed and we can make it through each day. Thank you, mom and dad, for never giving up.


Klee Htoo lives in Oakland California. Before that, he lived in Burma. He is a senior at Oakland International High School. He wants to become a software engineer. He wants to see his dreams come true and plans to work really hard to achieve this goal.

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