Yasodha Khatiwada was born in Bhutan. She and her family were exiled when she was 33 years old in 1992 and lived in Timai refugee camp (Nepal) for 18 years.
Yasodha, her husband and children all resettled in Minnesota in 2008. Her biggest expectations before arriving in Minnesota were to be able to provide for her children. Yasodha, her husband, and children are all working and they just bought a home.
She is excited to become a citizen while having the freedom to continue to practice her religion, Hinduism.
AKB: It is April 14, 2012. I am in the home of Yasodha Khatiwada for an oral history interview for the Bhutanese oral history project for Hennepin History Museum. Can you tell me your place of birth?
YK: No, no.
AKB: How long were you living in refugee camp?
YK: 18 years.
AKB: When did you arrive in Minnesota?
YK: 2008. June 5.
AKB: Do you have one in your family that has been born in Minnesota?
YK: Yes. Three grandchild, going to be four, five!
AKB: And if you are currently working, can you tell me your occupation?
YK: Childcare. [I] provide childcare to my grandchildren.
AKB: Can you tell me your place of worship?
YK: Usually [I and my family] do prayers mostly at home. Once in a while they go to Hindu Temple, Maplewood.
AKB: Let’s talk about the languages you speak.
YK: Nepalese, English.
AKB: Are you taking ESL courses for English?
YK: She took ESL for two years at Hubb Center. And now this year she’s working so she’s not taking.
AKB: So you are married, so can you tell me how you met your husband?
YK: One thing is arranged marriage, but arranged by parents. Parents and his parents came to ask her parents.
AKB: How many years have you been married?
YK: Seventy-three. [I] was married in 1973.
AKB: Thirty eight years?
YK: Thirty-six years.
AKB: Let’s talk about the rest of your family. Are all of your family together here? Are they still in the camps? Are they in other places throughout the world?
YK: [My] nuclear family, she came together, her children are all here. His [pointing to husband] brother is still in the camp.
AKB: He can come here now because you are here?
YK: He is trying to come.
AKB: Out of your family, are you the first to come to the United States?
YK: From [my] nuclear family—[we] came together—so they were the first ones. But her brothers were here earlier.
MS: My husband is her brother.
AKB: Did you hear anything about Minnesota? From your brothers? And what were they saying about Minnesota?
YK: [My] brother told [me] that it is a nice place and people are nice.
AKB: Good. So you came in June, so it was summer and it was nice outside when you came. So tell me what it was like when you first arrived here, how you felt and your welcoming and that experience.
YK: When they first came they were confused. But there were people to greet them.
MS: Like her brother is my husband, I was there, my husband was there. And they had a helping family: they are called Helping Hand and there were also members of the resettlement agency. Her name is Emily, so they were there in the airport to greet them.
AKB: Because we are talking about Minnesota, tell me about what it was like in the first winter that you experienced here.
YK: So cold!
AKB: Would you say you are adjusting better to the winter here?
YK: Now [we] are use to it and it’s a nice place and everything’s good.
AKB: I’m still not use to the winters here! Let’s talk a little bit about your expectations of when you first arrived here. You were in the camps when they told you were going to Minnesota, and I’d like to know a little bit about what your hopes were and what you thought it would be like here.
YK: When [I] was in camp [I] was looking forward because at least [we] will have freedom here. The second thing is hopefully we will get a job and be able to provide.
AKB: Would you say that you have been able to find employment and did you have help with that, and do you feel more comfortable now because it’s been a few years since you’ve been here?
YK: Everybody has a job; all [my] children are working. [My] husband is working, [I’m] working.
MS: And one story, I can add, they just bought a house! And they are moving in May, so this is a success story.
AKB: Is your new house in Roseville?
YK: It’s about five miles away from Roseville, in a small city called, Vadnais Heights.
AKB: We’ll have to do an interview in a year from now to see what it’s like to living there, versus what it is like living here in Roseville. When you arrived to Roseville, you had housing provided for you?
MS: They didn’t come to Roseville first, they came to St. Paul.
AKB: Can you tell me how you got here to Roseville?
YK: The first house was provided for them by Helping Hand, and [we] stayed there for two years, and [we] needed a bigger place, so [we] moved here.
AKB: This area here in Roseville, do you feel like this has been a welcoming neighborhood for you to live in?
YK: [We] like it, a good place, a welcoming place.
AKB: Are there any other Bhutanese living here in this apartment complex?
YK: She has her son and her daughter-in-law next door.
AKB: I really want to talk about your religious life because I want to bring to light your religion and what that means to you.
YK: [I] feel it is very important [my] religion.
AKB: Can you describe what your religious practices in the camps and maybe talk about them now, if they have changed, if they are the same.
YK: Whatever [we] had in the camp, they are continuing here; [we] are not changing and [we] won’t change it.
Yasoda’s son: But the way we use to do it in the camps and the way we do it here is really, really different. The way in the camp was like we had ritual, like a temple, we can go, we can pray there. But here we don’t have like
MS: Transportation is a problem.
Yasoda’s son: We don’t have—we have to go so far—we only have one Temple and it’s kind of like, we use to go once in a year.
MS: Maybe less.
AKB: I’ve been to the Temple in Maplewood, and it’s so far out.
MS: And for the newcomers, there is no way they can go because there is no transportation.
Yasoda’s son: For them, if they want to go somewhere else, we need to make our day off because they can’t go there.
MS: They cannot drive.
Yasoda’s son: They can’t drive, can’t speak if they have some problem along the way, they can’t speak to the people.
AKB: I can’t imagine not being able to get to a Temple. You had this everyday—that was the one constant thing that you had as a community, you came together to the Temple there—and you had that community with your religion to pray together. And now, it’s more home focused.
MS: Yes! They had a Temple in the camp, in Timai, they use to worship there. But here, every family, they have a small alter and they pray there. Like both of them in their bedroom they have an altar. In my house we have an alter—everybody has an alter—we pray there.
AKB: It’s gone from more of a community to more personal home that you have made this sacred space in your house.
AKB: I’d like to talk about, you said it was very difficult to the Temple. I know you have certain religious activities every year, and if you could talk about that and if you are able to get to the Temple for that?
YK: The main problem is because we have festivals in the month of October and November and there—one thing it is hard to coordinate with our day off. Because our holidays are not recognized so we don’t get day off. Sometime we are supposed to do our little ceremony in the morning we wait for all the family member to take the day off and we do it in the evening.
AKB: If you could tell me what your interaction here in Minnesota with other members of the Bhutanese, and if you’re able to get together and what that’s like and how often.
YK: Once in a while when there is a marriage within the community or if there is program in the community. And if there is a group, like few nuclear extended families. Even if you can’t meet in the daytime, sometime we go in the evening to visit friends.
AKB: When you’ve got your home shrines, is everybody in your family able to use it or do you do it by yourself, or is it sort of as a group?
YK: It’s allowed for everybody. But whoever has the time—usually [I] have the time, so [I] do the things.
AKB: More recently there are Christians within the Bhutanese community, would you say that is dividing the community because there are two different religions within one community?
YK: Actually, it’s not divided, even if they follow their own religion. Even though they are Christians and we are Hindu, if there is a common program they come. So we get together. So if somebody gets married, we invite everybody.
AKB: Do you know of any inter-marriages? So Bhutanese within your community marrying outside of the community?
YK: They haven’t heard in Minnesota. But in the family we have.
AKB: So tell me about within the family.
YK: [My] brother, second brother, he has married a Caucasian. They have two boys.
AKB: Are you involved with any organizations here in Minnesota?
YK: The only organization [we] go is World Relief that brought [us], whatever [we] needed [we] go, other than that, [we] are not involved. And the Bhutanese community, whenever there is any gathering, whenever there is something [we] go. But that is very rare—once a year.
AKB: Can you tell me your highest level of education? And the members of your nuclear family.
YK: [I] went to Level II ESL and highest level is Kula, the man who was here, he has masters. [I] have two other sons who have Bachelors, but from India, and then three daughters they have high school, and three daughter-in-laws have high school. And [my] one older daughter-in-law has some college. Out of the three daughters, one daughter high school, one daughter some college. Out of the three daughter-in-laws, two daughter-in-laws high school, and one daughter-in-law some college.
AKB: We’ve talked about there are once a year for public celebration for the whole Bhutanese community get together, and where do you do that at?
YK: We had one or two gatherings and one time we had it at the Lauderdale Community Center, and the other two times we had it at the St. Paul Institute. But the population is growing now, so there is no space.
AKB: Is there talk within the community of where you will go now for your public celebrations?
MS: Actually, there is an organization that has been formed and they are working on that.
AKB: Which organization?
MS: It’s called the Bhutanese Community of Minnesota. Before it was just called Nirvana Center and I was involved in forming that.
AKB: I’d like to talk about when you first arrived who helped you and what resources, like food, housing, clothing. Who helped you get on your feet and made you feel like this is your home.
YK: [We] had a Helping Family, called Janet—actually there were four people, members of Helping Family and [we] had one neighbor called, Anna, they were very helpful to [us] for providing housing, going to grocery, helping shopping. [We] got some clothes for them.
MS: We also got involved a little bit. Most of them were the Helping Families. They even give training on how to do the driving. They also showed them how to take a bus, public transportation. [YK husband speaks]. He’s talking about how difficult it is to put the ticket on the bus.
AKB: I would like to talk a moment of your English before you arrived here.
YK: [I] didn’t know English, but I improved a lot now. Now [I’ve] passed the test, the citizenship test.
AKB: Now I’d like to talk, since you have brought up citizenship test. Are you taking classes for that? What the process is, when will you take it?
YK: [We’re] are learning [ourselves] on the computer; [our] citizenship test is going to be next year in June. [We] have to apply, but [we] are still learning.
AKB: Let’s talk about food for a little bit. I know that with life in the camps, you had to eat whatever was given to you, so if you could talk about your diet in the camps and what your diet is like now.
YK: Lots of difference from camp! The only thing [we] ate in the camp was lentils and rice—the smelly rice—the black rice. But here lots of difference—[we] can eat whatever [we] want. Fruits, [we] couldn’t buy fruits in the camp. [I’m] vegetarian, so for [me] I get lots of vegetarian diet here.
AKB: I know a lot of Hindus are vegetarians, and I also know that coming here to the States, with having so much meat available, they are not vegetarians anymore. Is there anyone in your family that now eats meat?
YK: There might be family members who turn to be meat eaters, because they want to, but there’s lots of options here and tons of vegetables compared to refugee camp. Actually, there is a lot more here than anywhere.
AKB: It’s overwhelming to walk into a grocery store.
[YK husband speaks].
MS: He says there is not much fresh here, in Nepal and Bhutan you can pluck fresh from the trees. Most of what you get here is over the counter in the fridge.
AKB: The other thing I would like to talk about is if you found anything disappointing about living here.
YK: [My] disappointment is winter! Everyone treats [me] well, everybody likes [me], but the winter!
AKB: Let’s end the interview talking about your future hopes and what you wish for your most for your family for yourself. Because you have chosen to remain here in Minnesota and make it your home.
YK: [I] wish [my] children and [my] grandchildren to do well and study well and be a good citizens of Minnesota, and taking good posts, big level directions in Minnesota. And hopes the government of Minnesota respects our culture, our religion, and keep on and hopes to continue to keep our tradition, our culture.