Chin Center Task Force: Bridging Gaps in the Indianapolis Chin Community with Biak Sung
Bridging the Culture, Language, and Generation Gap: The Chin Center Task Force
Our nation was founded on ideals of religious freedom and the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This elusive pursuit can be a much longer, more arduous journey for minorities. This does not have to be the case for religious (Christian) refugees of the Chin ethnic group in Indianapolis, who are taking special steps to grow into their new community.
At December’s Chin Center Task Force Meeting, one of the biggest concerns raised by the Chin is the risk of losing their culture in the acculturation process. Parents noted special concern for their children as they mature into young adults. The Chin Center Task Force is bridging gaps across languages, between generations, cultures, and even religions. Here is what’s being done to ensure that Chin individuals have the same chance our own immigrant ancestors once had upon arrival in a new land.
Enter Biak Sung
“Hakha Chin is my mother-tongue but I can also understand Burmese“, explains a modest Biak Sung in perfect english. Her natural skill in linguistics and communication serve her well as a Behavioral Community Health Worker, where she links fellow Chin to services through Windrose and other healthcare or social service agencies. She notes that the Chin community remains largely unaware of help that is available, and is motivated to raise that awareness.
“I want to do what I can do to help my community, and obviously to do whatever I can for the culture. And as a Christian and a human I feel like my purpose–my vocation in life–is to serve others. Keeping this attitude of ‘service’ provides a great deal of fulfillment in my role as behavioral community health worker.”
Biak exemplifies the idea of servant leadership, and is beginning to influence efforts to get at the heart of the issue as she sees it: the widening generation gap within families. She has a degree in psychology, but had doubts about her studies at first,
“…But when I discovered family psychology, all those doubts went away. When I started learning about parenting, I realized how much we need to bring some new ideas into our community. I’m reading ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families’ by Steven Covey right now, and find that family psychology can explain much of the generation gap among Chin communities“.
The Fundamental Family Unit
“Chin parents want to be supportive as possible, they are the most unselfish individuals. They really are the best– completely unselfish– they put the kids before their own needs. But, their children are growing up in a very different setting than the parents are used to. This is where differences start to arise. Kids are coming home from school learning English much more quickly than their parents. As these differences pile up, it becomes hard to relate to their kids or consider their own fallibility.”
Biak believes that breakdown of the family unit is at the root of the ‘generation gap’ in the Chin Community. “The first generation still feels like a fish out of water, but the second generation is quickly learning to swim” warns Biak, implying that the youth may be swimming into dangerous waters without supervision due to generation-related barriers in technology, language, and culture.
Traditional Asian parenting is very conservative and authoritarian according to Biak, who works with Chin parents to encourage a bit more flexibility. “I try to remind parents the importance of their continued positive relationship with their children, and encourage parents to try actively to relate to their kids. I believe this is true in all modern families, but especially relevant for our quickly-changing Chin community.” Biak is working to repair the integrity of the Chin family unit for one major reason: “When families drift or fall apart they lose that safety net, and substance abuse becomes a very big problem.”
“Substance abuse is definitely a problem–mostly alcohol.”
In Biak’s experience, alcoholism is a common problem among younger Chin living in America. She reports that some Chin are addicted to culturally unique substances such as kun pawng which Biak describes as an intoxicating tobacco.
Those struggling from addiction may go years before realizing the extent of their problem. According to Biak, addiction problems are compounded by the Chin’s distinct language and cultural identity, which make recovery less accessible. As Biak explains, “There are much fewer places to go for help, fewer options for counseling or healthcare. But there is help and hope out there”.
The Answer? Reconnecting
Biak was quick to name two promising potential solutions, both focusing on reconnection:
- CYONA: Chin Youth Organization of North America: “This is a big organization which highlights many current issues for young Chin living in America, especially the generation-gap issue. They are active on social media like facebook.“
2. “Faith is a good way to bring people back together…and the Chin Baptist Church puts on seminars and trainings. We do it for the parents.” Biak herself has taught classes at the Chin Baptist Church.
Biak believes that the church and a shared faith holds the most promise as a solution. She notes that AA-like recovery communities are slow to form in these situations, but believes it is just a matter of faith and time. She puts her faith in Peter and the church.
President Peter Thawnghmung
Just to be clear: Check out what Peter Thawnghmung (president of the Chin Community of Indiana) is doing to promote recovery for Chin living in the Indianapolis area. As vital part of the Chin Center Community Task Force, Peter is working to create additional addiction recovery programs designed specifically for Chin-speaking audiences.
World Religion day is January 20th. For the Chin in Indianapolis, Faith helps to bridge the generation gap.
World Religion Day celebrates the similarities that different faiths have, and the potential for unity within and across different religions across the world. Our national current events are especially divisive this year. In these politically tense times, let’s celebrate Biak Sung’s message: “We just need to focus on what we all have in common, be kind, and grow together as the family we are“.