Cha Deng Vang, 68, tends to the community garden at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries. Working in the garden helps Vang, a refugee from Laos, relieve anxiety and get exercise. (Annabelle Beecher/KQED)
Editor’s Note: Refugees face unique challenges building lives in the United States. Cha Deng Vang fled Laos in 1987 after fighting as soldier in the US-backed forces. As part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we hear from 68-year-old Vang who has found that a community garden for Hmong refugees at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries has helped him build community and relieve stress. Chong Vang and Sam Chang helped to translate his story.
By Cha Deng Vang
On this side we are growing Hmong pumpkin. They’re very round and very big compared to the American version.
Growing up my parents taught me how to garden and farm. As soon as I turned 18, I became a soldier, and that was basically my entire life.
When I first came to America, I had no education. I couldn’t find a job which equals no money to help my family. So with no financial support, it was a lot of stress on the entire family. And on top of that we also had a lot of illness in the family, which also caused a lot of stress on me as well. Continue reading
Iranians protest in San Francisco. (Steve Rhodes: Flickr)
California has resettled more Middle Eastern refugees over the past decade than any other state in the U.S. In Northern California, Santa Clara County is a resettlement hub for Middle Eastern refugees — more than 1,300 have moved there since 2006. The majority of these refugees are from Iran and Iraq, and many carry memories of past trauma with them.
Twenty-four year old Iraqi refugee Jasmine said she definitely brought her past memories with her to California. Jasmine (not her real name) and her family fled Iraq in 2006 after insurgents killed her father in a drive-by shooting. She said they escaped to Syria, then resettled in San Jose three years later.
“You left your home. You left the place that you belong to. Your people who loved there,” Jasmine said. “Sometimes I feel like everything for me after Iraq is different: the roads, the air, the dust. I know back home. The dust of back home. I know the air of back home.”
“What happened will remain like a scar inside yourself. Especially like we saw a lot of stuff not normal … Like people killed in front of your eye. I don’t believe I’m going to forget them.”
Jasmine said she was in survival mode in Iraq and experienced a delayed reaction to the stress of war. But when she did land in America, depression hit Jasmine hard.