New Faces of Immigration in North Texas

Many of the newest immigrants in North Texas aren't coming from south of the border. More than 1,200 refugees from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, now call Lewisville home.

The Chin people, most of whom are Christian, face religious persecution in Myanmar, which is ruled by a military junta. Most of Myanmar is Buddhist.

"The army is mean," said Lydia Hiang, a grade-schooler who is just starting to learn English.

Her mother, Mang Hiang, puts it in more blunt terms.

"The army don't like Christians," she said.

"They began to kill the Baptist pastors and basically draped them over the church altars to intimidate people," said Becky Nelson, of the Chin Refugee Ministry with the First Baptist Church of Flower Mound.

Nelson has been working since 2007 to resettle as many of the Chin in Lewisville as she can.

"The word spread that this is a safe place," she said. "That's all it took."

Nelson likened the situation in Myanmar to what happened in Bosnia between the Serbs and Croats. She said there are some 30,000 Chin refugees scattered around the world.

Nelson said all of the refugees in Lewisville are on the path to citizenship. Ninety-five of the adults are employed and looking to start their own businesses. The children are enrolled in schools and progressing well learning in English.

She said Lewisville has embraced its new residents. Three churches have already been established, a first order of business for people grateful for the opportunity to worship in peace.

"They think America is heaven," Nelson said. "It is not heaven; it's very, very difficult to live here, but it's a second heaven because we go to church and nobody shoots us."

Other North Texas cities also have significant Asian populations. Richardson has a long-established Asian community, and Asians make up 16 percent of Plano's population.

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