Southport police officer creates class to help Burmese refugees

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Nearly 14,000 Burmese people call the south side of Indianapolis home. Cultural differences make them a target for discrimination in their community. But, one police officer is working to change that.

Southport Police Officer Jose Mejia felt there was a disconnect in his community. So, he created the Chin Academy. It’s meant to teach the Burmese population about American culture, and also things that are maybe socially acceptable there, but frowned upon here.

Many of the Burmese people are refugees who escaped torture and death. However, once here, a new battle begins. For example, earlier this spring, somebody planted a sign in a southside yard that read “No More Chin.”

“It made me sad because I want to belong here. I want to be like Americans. I want to be treated same too,” said Andrew Thang. Thang is a refugee who has been in the US for 10 years.

He says Burmese people are partly to blame for the discrimination they face, “There’s a lot of things that we lack in understand. The environment of United States, the culture and everything. So, there’s a lot of mistakes that we make too.”

Which is why Thang is enrolled in the Chin Academy created by Officer Mejia.

“I sort of just didn’t see any programs available for the Burmese population coming in. There’s nothing. I tried to learn the language, for example. There aren’t really any resources to do that,” said Officer Mejia.

The classes focus on a variety of topics; domestic violence, city government and driving safety just to name a few.

“I would say bridging the gap between their old lives and coming in to American society. We’re not trying to change the way they are or their culture or anything like that. It’s just understanding basic rules, of the road for example,” said Officer Mejia.

Understanding is something Thang not just welcomes, but is working toward, “We try to adjust our culture. We still in the process of becoming the real Americans.”

Classes take place every Saturday at the Chin Center located at 2524 East Stop 11 Road, Indianapolis, IN 46227 from noon until 2 p.m. Classes are free and open to everyone. On Saturday they plan to focus on gang violence, especially within the youth.