After two decades of living in bamboo sheds in camps in eastern Nepal, refugees from Bhutan resettled in the United States have found that adjustment to life in a new country is easier if they can live and work among their own people.
After being evicted from Bhutan in the early 1990s, being stateless in refugee camps in Jhapa and Morang for so long, more than 100,000 Bhutanese have been resettled in seven countries around the world, with the United States taking most of them.
After adjusting to culture shock, and overcoming the language barrier, most of them here have found jobs in large American companies so that they can live, commute and work together.
Narayan Gautam is among 200 Bhutanese who work at the large clothing chain Nordstrom in Harrisburg of Pennsylvania. Gautam and other Bhutanese who worked for Apple, DB Schenker, and Aerotech have all switched en masse to Nordstrom, which has policy to make it easier for immigrants to fit in.
Unlike Nepalis in the US who tend to work individually, the Bhutanese prefer to go where there are other compatriots. Pancha Bahadur Gurung, for instance works in a coat factory called Southwick in Haverhill of Massachusetts which employs 25 other Bhutanese. “Four years ago there were 60 Bhutanese here, but they have moved elsewhere now,” he explains.
Thousands of Bhutanese work at Fedex distribution hubs in Texas, in dairy farms in Rochester of New York, and in chocolate factories in Vermont.
In Ohio state, where many Bhutanese refugees from Nepal have settled, the former refugees have flocked to the same company for employment. For example, Nepali is almost the lingua franca in an Amazon processing centre in Texas where more than 1,500 Bhutanese work.
Dalbahadur Basnet and five of his family members all work there, and he says proudly: “We now have a reputation for being among the top nationalities who perform well.”