Karen Diaspora in Minnesota Keeps Language Alive with Local Trainings

A group of Karen residents in Minnesota are trying to keep their traditions alive among the diaspora by teaching the Karen language and literature.

Every weekend from January 28 to September 4, a group that calls itself the Putermine Gontar Temple taught 16 adults and kids in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Mahn Lone Paung, who organized the training, said he hopes Karen youth growing up in America take time to learn Karen culture, dances and literature.

On September 9, the Putermine Gontar community held a graduation ceremony for the Karen literature trainees.

Mahn Lone Paung noted that it hasn’t been easy trying to solicit interest in preserving Karen traditions.

“I feel sad that our literature is in a state of decline. We always invite the Karen people from our city to attend the training but only a few people come,” he told Karen News.

Around 70 people attended the literature graduation ceremony, however. Certificates of completion were awarded to the trainees, followed by a performance of traditional Karen songs and dances.

“[Our] spoken language will not last long if people do not learn the written language,” said Saw Min Soe San, who attended the graduation ceremony. “I have been teaching Karen literature to my grandchildren in order for them to be able to read and speak in the Karen language and so they can know the traditional culture.”

Members of the Putermine Gontar Temple community estimated that over 64,000 Karen people live in the United States, with the largest community based around Saint Paul, Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Literacy Council around 12,000 Karen refugees were have been resettled to Saint Paul.

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