Mi Mi Thaung, a 41-year-old refugee from Burma, now called Myanmar, came to Canada in 1996 after she married a fellow refugee from her homeland. In 1978, her father, a doctor, had been put in jail for alleged revolutionary activity for three months. Upon his release, the family fled to Thailand. Her father worked as a surgeon on the border of Thailand and Burma, helping his fellow exiles. The rest of the family settled nearby.
In 1985, her mother sought asylum in the United States, joining a cousin in New York. She then sponsored her two children and husband to come to the United States in 1993. Once in the U.S., Mi Mi went to college. But something was pulling her heart north — a relationship with a fellow refugee, Saw Moo, a student revolutionary in the 1988 uprising in Burma, whom she had met at a refugee camp. Moo came to Canada in 1993. He studied landscaping and horticulture at Algonquin College in Ottawa. The couple eventually settled in Toronto in 1998.
What were your thoughts about coming to Canada?
I love the education here. In Canada the best one is health care. The second one is human rights. The third one is education.
Did you find it difficult living in Toronto?
As soon as I stepped my feet on Canadian land it was: “I’m coming home.” When I step my feet in to Canada I’m coming home. It’s already my home. I just left for a second and then I come back home. It’s like someone open arms and hugs us with warmness and love.
You mentioned political freedom that we have here is important to you. Can you explain that?
I can talk freely (here). In Thailand I cannot say my dad is helping people in the jungle. We’re stateless and we escaped from Burma. I can’t tell my story. We cannot say that freely. And you never know who will inform the officials. Oh you’re illegal in Thailand. Even in Burma, you cannot come and talk to me and interview me like this. You have to go hide somewhere and do the interview. You can’t do it openly.
What did you think of Toronto when you first saw it?
It’s a beautiful city, big city. One problem it was hard to find an apartment. Then we rent only a little room a bachelor room, my son was 2. That room was $600. Near Queen and Ossington area. . . . One thing I like everything is convenient. You want food from our country, Chinese food, Japanese food, everything you can find here.
What was your reaction to a Canadian winter?
Actually I love the winter. One thing for me it’s calm, clean, especially when it’s a snow day it’s so beautiful . . . everything looks like it’s peaceful. I think we come from a country with a lot of problems when I see the snow come down it’s peaceful; it’s not like rain. We grew up in a country with monsoon rain and the rain comes down and it’s boom, boom, boom, boom. But here (the snow is) just like after the wedding when people throw confetti. The snowflakes are just like flower petals falling down from the sky.
What advice did you give other members of the Karen community about integrating into Toronto? Other immigrants or refugees?
First for me was education — English. Even the older people I encouraged (them) to go to school try to learn one word a day. First, yes or no. Second, good morning, thank you. Try to remember one word a day. . . . You have to stand up by yourself. The second thing is work.”