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Utica’s Karen Community – Celebrating a Festival of Nations at Culture Fest

karen new year
The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees/Facebook

Editor’s Note: Today we begin a month-long series on the many communities past and present that make the Utica and Central New York community unique in all of America.  Our series is leading up to Culture Fest coming to the Stanley World Stage on April 13 featuring food, music, dance and more.

Today we take a look at the Karen community.

The Karens are refugees from Burma (Myanmar).  The Karen are the largest indigenous population in Burma.  There are 6 million Karens in Burma and another 600,000 in Thailand.

After a military dictatorship took over Burma in 1962 and refugees began fleeing a state of civil war.

Utica is the home to a large Karen population.  Estimated to be just over 1500, the Karens are the third largest population of refugees in our community following only Bosnians and those from the former Soviet Union.

Shoes are generally not worn in a Karen home. When greeting a member of the community, you should “hold your right elbow in your left hand, and using your right hand to shake hands.”

The video below is a traditional music performance from the Karen New Year’s Celebration in 2010:

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Sources: Government of Queensland, Hamilton College Shine Project, MV Resource Center for Refugees

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