‘My Language Is My Language, But I’m a Vermonter’
Vermont has accepted thousands of refugees over the years, boosting the population and the economy. A debate over accepting Syrians put the state to the test.
BURLINGTON—Eight years ago, Som Timsina’s family left a refugee camp in Nepal and became one of the first Bhutanese families to seek sanctuary in Vermont. Timsina drove the Holiday Inn’s shuttle on night shifts for three years as he saved to open his own Asian grocery. Five years later, Central Market has become a gathering place for the state’s growing population of ethnic Nepali from Bhutan, and its kitchen dishes out Himalayan cuisine that gets raves from locals on Yelp—tikka masala and biryani, plus Nepali momo dumplings.
Timsina, 38, works long, fast-paced days. In a 20-minute chat in his store, he never takes off his black jacket or takes the Bluetooth from his ear. Though business isn’t as strong as he’d like, and housing costs in Burlington are high, Vermonters, he says, have offered a welcoming refuge for him and his family — including his father, who was tortured by authorities in Bhutan.
“They react good so far,” he says of Vermonters. “They are helping us.”
For decades now, Vermont has welcomed refugees from around the world: more than 8,000 since 1989, just over 1 percent of the small state’s population. Vermonters have been almost Canadian in their big-hearted welcome of the displaced and persecuted, primarily from Somalia, Sudan, Central Africa, Bhutan and Bosnia. They’re generous donors of furniture and household goods for new arrivals. They’ve taken Somali refugees into their homes to help them adjust to American life. And their schools have stepped up with English-language classes for kids from abroad. In Vermont, refugee resettlement has enjoyed near-unanimous support from state and local political leaders, who see it as a way to add youth and vigor to the largely rural state’s declining population. And for the most part their constituents have agreed. Until this year.
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