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Immigrants find haven in Port Lavaca (video)

By By GHENI PLATENBURG - SPECIAL TO VICTORIA ADVOCATE
Aug. 25, 2012 at 3:25 a.m.

Htlooklae Paw caresses the face of her daughter, Eh Kiki Wah, as they talk about the transition into American culture. Paw and her extended family immigrated from Thailand, where they lived in refugee camps after fleeing Myanmar.

Special report

The Victoria Advocate will tell the Karens' stories in a three-part special report beginning today. To read today's story, click HERE. The series will continue for the next two Sundays.

Coming Sept. 2: The Karen change Calhoun schools

Sept. 9: Immigrants chase the American dream

It has been described as hell on Earth by those fortunate enough to escape.

The conflict between the military-ruled government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and the jungle-dwelling Karen ethnic group has infamously become the longest-running civil war in the world.

Thousands of refugees have resettled in Texas, with Fort Worth being the top destination. During the past five years, hundreds of Karens (pronounced kah-REN) have made their way to one of the most unlikeliest of places - Port Lavaca.

Located in Calhoun County, the coastal city has a population of just 21,442 and is known for its hard-working, blue-collar way of life.

This life suits Htlooklae Paw, 27, and her husband, Hlara Wah. They work opposite shifts as packers at the nearby Inteplast plastics plant.

They have been willing to sacrifice their time together so one of them is available to take care of their daughter, Eh Kiki Wah, now 6 years old.

Like millions of immigrants before them, the Paws see America as their path to a better life.

For 63 years and counting, the Karen, along with more than 130 other distinct ethnic groups, have fought on the losing side against civil unrest, genocide and oppression.

Hundreds of thousands have journeyed through a jungle littered with land mines to one of 10 refugee camps along the neighboring Thailand border, according to the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium.

Another 2 million are living in Thailand illegally.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and several non-governmental agencies have been instrumental in relocating the refugees from the camps to other countries, including Australia, England, Canada and the United States.

The road to adjusting to life in Port Lavaca has not been easy for the Karens.

But it is a road they happily travel as it comes with the inalienable human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Paws' daughter started kindergarten this month in Port Lavaca. To help her in school, Htlooklae Paw plans to become a stay-at-home mom.

To read:

Plastics plant welcomes Burmese immigrants to Port Lavaca, click HERE.

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