Article Written by Joshua Brown.
Today, there are over 250,000 Karen people living in the United States. The land, not known to many people between Thailand and Burma, has been the home of the Karen people for more than 2,000 years and was formalized by many Karen ancestors who migrated from China. In the beginning of the nation’s development, the Karen people lived fully as a free nation without war until 200 years later, when other nations sought to take over. St. Paul, Minnesota, is home to the largest Karen population in the United States.
Karen culture was celebrated at a cultural night event hosted by the Karen Student United Association and held on Saturday, March 18, at St. Cloud State University’s Atwood Ballroom to increase cultural awareness through a talent show showcasing their unique language, traditional clothing, and music that will show the crowd who the Karen people are.
“As a part of the KSUA organization, one of our goals is to educate the Saint Cloud community at SCSU about the Karen culture…. Coming here 10–15 years ago, not many people know about the Karen people, so it is really important for us to actually advocate for ourselves… So that’s why on campus we have KSU (Karen Student United), one of our missions is to just educate the people about our culture, customs, who we are and at the same time showcasing, like retelling our history, to the new generation of who might not have learned about it or lived through it”, said Thomas Htoo, SCSU student and Vice President of Karen Student United Association.
Just before “Karen’s Got Talent”, the name of the event, officially started, the attendees were presented with the Karen national anthem, and a video recording of speeches from two special speakers from St. Cloud University, President Robbyn Wacker and Multicultural Student Services faculty and KSUA advisor, Angie Witte.
Each speaker’s videos were them showing their support and appreciation for the importance of presenting cultural events on the St. Cloud campus, as all of them bring individuals together in celebration of sharing traditions and food, helping build relationships amongst different minorities as they inform and help others understand each other’s culture.
Events showcasing different traditions are important to SCSU because they help it continue to show its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as SCSU is one of the most diverse colleges in Minnesota.
“I want to thank the Karen Student United Association for hosting this special night and presenting us with a rare glimpse of their unique culture, through entertainment, and grand cuisine”, said President Wacker.
After the brief introduction, the audience was then presented with a five-minute briefing on the history behind the Karen culture and where it stands today in society. Throughout the brief history lesson, the audience would have come to learn that the Karen, a nation of over fifteen million people, is a nation located in Southeast Asia, with its own unique history, culture, and customs.
As other nations came along, the population of the Karen people decreased, and they were forced to live as outlaws because they did not submit to the rules of the kings of other nations. Then, in the 1820s, the British Colonial Power came into the nation and fought the Burmese nation, which is known as the Burmese and Karen War. After the war, the British stole their land and started a rule that helped the Karen people stop living as outlaws and in fear.
Throughout the years, Karen ancestors fought in many more wars, fighting alongside allies in World War 2, as the hope for getting their nation back was foreseeable as they were given a promise of independence once the war was over. However, that promise was disregarded after the war, and the British government granted independence to the Burmese nation. As a result, it started the longest conflict ever in Southeast Asia.
After learning about the history of Karen, the talent show “Karen’s Got Talent” began, featuring multiple individuals of the Karen community and those of different cultures. The audience was treated to poems, songs, and dances that all represented Karen’s unique language and traditional clothing.
To increase the fun and competitiveness, there were four judges included in the show, each providing the performers positive reinforcement and encouragement. When the show ended, the audience had the opportunity to vote on the best performances, not the judges. The show’s winner received a trophy, and attendees were served traditional Karen cuisine. Overall, the event was a success in showcasing the Karen culture and promoting cultural awareness at SCSU. Many more SCSU students should continue to go to these events just to learn about different cultures and even join the cultural clubs, as the Karen Student United Association is open to everyone.
“I’m close friends with the president; we have actually been hometown friends since middle school, so I’ve learned a lot about his culture; the club is very welcoming to anyone, Karen or not; it’s just like a good learning space for connecting with people and having a good time,” said Marnath Deng, an SCSU student and one of the judges from the event.