Minister Calls Meeting In Search Of Solutions For Assimilating Burmese

By Jeff Neumeyer

September 22, 2010 Updated Sep 22, 2010 at 5:34 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- An African American minister says Fort Wayne needs to do a better job teaching the growing Burmese population how to live in our culture.

Reverend Michael Latham is singling out a local charity that helps Burmese refugees settle here.

Part of Reverend Latham’s message—don't blame the Burmese people, blame the fact they aren't getting proper training on the way we live in this country.

Latham says he learned of problems with Burmese residents at the Autumn Woods Apartment complex off South Anthony Boulevard during a meeting between city officials and other African American ministers from the community.

Latham, former president of Fort Wayne’s NAACP chapter, says he visited the complex to see conditions firsthand.

He says when he witnessed a Burmese woman eating food off the ground near a trash bin, he decided to organize a public meeting seeking solutions.

He thinks Catholic Charities should be doing more cultural training with the refugees on the American lifestyle.

Kathleen Smith/Autumn Woods Tenant: " We go on walks and we see kids going to the bathroom outside, because they don't know better."

Reverend Michael Latham/Renaissance Baptist Church: " I would like for Catholic Charities to know, to bring the number of people that they brought into our community and have dropped them off, to me, is a sad indictment on even the Catholic Church."

Debra Schmidt/Catholic Charities: " The majority of the families that are living in those complexes are what we call secondary migrations, and those are people who are refugees who have been re-settled into other states and cities in this country, and have moved to Fort Wayne, so the difficulty in working with the population now is, where do they come from and what are their needs?"

Schmidt says for every Burmese refugee intentionally settled in Fort Wayne, there are close to three more who chose to live in Fort Wayne as secondary migrants.

Schmidt says it’s extremely difficult to track or assimilate that population.

Latham is organizing a public meeting Friday, starting at 10 a.m., at Renaissance Baptist Church near the intersection of Hanna Street and Old Decatur Road.

He wants to start a dialogue on how to better provide cultural education and training to Burmese refugees.

Debra Schmidt acknowledges that ethnic tensions are on the increase, in part because of the influx of Burmese refugees.

To deal with the issue, a federal educational program called “The Center for Preventing Hate” is expected to come to Fort Wayne in early October to investigate, in an attempt to reduce anti-immigration bias that is common in refugee settlements across the country.

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