Immigrant Voices Podcast Project

Soe Soe from Myanmar (Burma)

May 09, 2021 Deborah Season 3 Episode 11
Immigrant Voices Podcast Project
Soe Soe from Myanmar (Burma)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When the events of 9/11, 2001 caused the U.S. to cancel all visas to Myanmar, Soe Soe reapplied. Her urgent goal was to come to Boston to join family members already settled in the States. She needed to help her ailing father and give her younger sister a hand with the care of her first born child. In 2002, Soe Soe succeeded and traveled here with an older sister whose hearing impairment prevented her from getting work. Not only did Soe Soe become a major caretaker for her family in her new country, but she also worked three part-time jobs outside her home.  Eventually she began to learn English and through a fortuitous connection with a new friend from Burma, Soe Soe parlayed her Burmese University training as an accountant into a job at a Boston bank where she still works today. Naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2008, she has returned to her native country numerous times to connect with the relatives she left behind. 

Guest Intro/00:39

When the events of 9/11, 2001 caused the U.S. to cancel all visas to Myanmar, Soe Soe reapplied. Her urgent goal was to come to Boston to join family members already settled in the States. She needed to help her ailing father and give her younger sister a hand with the care of her first born child. In 2002, Soe Soe succeeded and traveled here with an older sister whose hearing impairment prevented her from getting work. Not only did Soe Soe become a major caretaker for her family in her new country, but she also worked three part-time jobs outside her home.  Eventually she began to learn English and through a fortuitous connection with a new friend from Burma, Soe Soe parlayed her Burmese University training as an accountant into a job at a Boston bank where she still works today. Naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2008, she has returned to her native country numerous times to connect with the relatives she left behind. 

Getting to the U.S./02:06

Deborah:  My guest is Soe Soe from Myanmar and you came to the United States in 2002. 

Soe Soe: 2002.

Deborah: So tell me your story the best you can. 

Soe Soe: When I came in my daddy was sick. He have cancer. That’s why I have to come in to help. My daddy was here with my younger sister. 

 Deborah: Where were they in the United States?

Soe Soe: In the Boston and Brighton too. 

Deborah: Oh. Okay.

Soe Soe: Yeah. And then he lived with my youngest sister, Emily and then when I come in, I have another sister. With other sister, we came in to the United States.

Deborah: Okay. So how many sisters were there? 

Soe Soe: We have a four sister, three sister. And now it’s three sisters in United States. And then one in Burma.

Deborah: Was it hard to make the trip here to take care of your father? Did you have any problems getting to the United States, getting a visa or whatever? 

Soe Soe:  Oh yeah. I started in my country. It was very difficult to come in because the time was 9/11 you know, the time is 2001 9/11.

Deborah: Was it after 9/11? 

Soe Soe: Yeah, after 9/11 we almost got a visa. After 9/11 had a problem in here. And all the visas got cancelled. It’s harder over there so we had to restart again in my country. And then another time I get a visa is 2002. I got another one. Visa.

Deborah: A year later. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. A year later. Yeah. 2002. And then 2001, my sister has a baby first baby in here the States. My sister and my daddy stay in here. And then she has family. And then she have a baby and then she have her daddy our daddy is a sick. And then she got a very difficult time for her. And then we didn’t get the visa yet. 

Deborah: Oh. So they were waiting for you to come. And you were still waiting for your visa? 

Soe Soe: Yeah, we are very hard to get it. And then 2002 we got here. And then I came with another sister. She is deaf. She is like a deaf. Not, it’s not she doesn’t know English. She doesn’t speak English and then she cannot work. She stays home.

Deborah:  And what about you? Had you studied English before you came here? 

Soe Soe: Oh, in my country, I get a graduate in my country. That’s how I can work in my company. And I was working there in my country. First university and then in my company. Yeah, I did it, but my sister is that when she was young she is like not normal and then she cannot understand. And then she deaf she cannot hear. 

Deborah: Are you saying you, your sister couldn’t hear, she was hard of hearing?

Soe Soe: Yeah. 

Deborah: Oh, so that made it so hard for the language. 

Work Life Begins/05:40

Soe Soe: I came in with her and then I came the United States. I get here and then I start working the Star Market.

Deborah: What did you do at the Star Market? 

Soe Soe:  I doing the cashier, but I’m not English, but I could have graduated in my country. But in my language. I’m not used to English. And then I have a very difficult for everything. When I get here. I’m doing the cashier. Then my sister stay home. Help my daddy, and then help my other sister’s baby. She take care for that baby, but with my daddy, but he still sick. And then 2005, my daddy passed away.

Deborah: That must have been so hard for your family. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. . . but we stayed with we stayed with the family.

Deborah: And what did you do to get by? In terms of your broken heart about it?

Soe Soe: Yeah.  . .  it’s hard. 

Deborah: And you kept working at the Star Market? 

Opportunity Knocks/07:02

Soe Soe: I got lucky. My. . .yeah. I still work in the Star Market. And then I looking for another job too, they look at it’s not full-time job you know part time job. That’s why I need to benefit. Then I need for me, but my sister has MassHealth my other sister, she is older sister. Disability ladies. I don’t need to worry about her because the government take care for that. And then I still look for that other job, but I didn’t get a full time job. But I got another job is part time.  

Deborah: Another part-time job. And what, what was that? What were you doing? 

Soe Soe: That one was cashier too, because I’m doing the Star Market. I need more money because I working hard you know. It’s hard. But I still going to school. That time is I’m going to the Jackson Mann school. Jackson Mann school had that ESL class. 

Deborah: Oh, ESL class. 

Soe Soe: Yeah ESL class.

Deborah: In Cambridge?

Soe Soe: Yeah. That one is Cambridge or Brighton. I didn’t know that. I’m not really, but yeah, I get in there. Then one of my customers in the Star Market. And then one lady. She is Burmese too. She comes from Burma. I never seen it. I would never met her in my country. I never see. I never when I get here I never met her too. I saw her in the Star Market. She bought her groceries and then she always come to see me, and then she talking with me and I. One day she keep coming and then, cause I didn’t notice that she was looking for an employer, employee, right. 

Deborah: Oh.

Soe Soe: Employee. She is a supervisor. I don’t know her, but I just talking and then she is. She is gentle lady that we talking about my language or work related, where you come from. What city in your country there. You keep asking that I didn’t know how to she, and I never met her in my country and here too. I met her in the Star Market. She saw me. And then she keeps saying that one day she came in and then, “Are you interesting for the bank teller or something?” she asking me. 

Deborah: What did you say? 

Soe Soe: “Of course, of course,” I sound like that. “I am really interested.” And then, if can help you, then she said that to me, and then if you want it, and then I come to pick up the application. That time is we don’t do the internet. I don’t have a computer. Yeah. I don’t, she said that, “Come to pick up that application and then you write down the application. You fill it out that get to me that,” she says. “I’m not sure you got it or not. I’m not sure,” she said like that’s okay. And then thank you for your help. And then she really helped me. Then she, she gives to me application. I applied for that and then I drop it right away for her. And then when I come back, they have, they call me and then they want me to interview. But that time is my English not, it’s not really good to know, just like us right now because I’m scary, shy to talking English. Now is more good to talk. 

Deborah: But you showed up, you showed up for the interview. How did the interview go? 

Soe Soe: And then interview. Because I working two jobs right? 

Deborah: Yes.

Soe Soe: The Star Market and Target. I get an interview and then. The thing is they are not hiring for family. Family they are not hiring. Then they first asking me that lady and you are family or not because of the same country we are language is same. I said, “No, never met in Burma and I met her here in Star Market and I’m like I didn’t never know. I know about one lady in country, one lady, lady work at that. And then I know of that one already. I don’t know who, I don’t know where she is living. I don’t know her.” And then I said like that, “Okay, you are not related, that’s good. Oh, which job you quit, you cannot work in three jobs.” They say that. Which one you want to quit the job? And then I say okay. Star Market is very close to my house my apartment. That’s why I quit Target. I said like that. Okay. And then the interview they not asking about too much. And then they asked about the that lady is a relative or not, and then we stopped and then you went to pick it. You still can do job or you want to work. And only my job I still look two jobs. I felt like that if you hiring me then I will quit one job. And then I said like that. 

Deborah: So did they offer you a full-time job? 

Soe Soe: Yeah, they offered me a full time job. I’m really happy for that. 

Deborah: How long have you been working there? 

Soe Soe: I get in 2007. 

Deborah: You’re still there?

Soe Soe: My father passed away 2005, 2006, and then 2007 is I still work in Star Market and Target two jobs. And then I have to wait a one month. They said that we have to check up background. They said that to me. We check background already and then we call you and then they say that. Okay. I waiting, waiting, waiting for job. Then they didn’t call me for months. Wait, I thought they were not calling me. They’re not taking me because I don’t know English well enough. Well, that’s why I thought I my mind is like that too. My English is no good. They didn’t call me and then I didn’t get a certificate in nothing here. I don’t have the certificate in that I got from graduation in my country. And here is nothing certificate. You know. 

Deborah: What kind of work did you do in your country when you graduated in your country?  

Soe Soe: I got accounting too. 

Deborah: Oh, so you have accounting background. 

Soe Soe: Yeah, I get it. 

Deborah: So the bank liked that, huh? 

Soe Soe: Yeah. After they hired me they really like me because I’m working hard. And then, then you know I working there and then they look at me and then how I working, but English is not really good yet then. They liked I working hard. That’s why.

Deborah: Yes.

Soe Soe:  Whatever they teach me I got easy how to do that. And then I get it that. 

Deborah: You’re a quick learner. A quick study. Good. 

Soe Soe: Yeah, I get it quick, I am quick learner.


Deborah: So, what are you most proud of since you’ve been here? What things are, do you feel the most proud of your victories, your accomplishments?

Soe Soe: I’m not really proud on my self. I don’t I don’t have enough yet. 

Deborah: Getting that job. A full-time job at a bank is wonderful.

Soe Soe: Yeah. Well, I’m happy for that. I’m really happy. And I appreciate from my co- my friend, right. She referred for me and then that. And then I still work in Star Market and bank. Two jobs still working.

Deborah: Oh you do, still?  

Soe Soe: And then, our apartment is low income apartment in the Charlesview Apartments. Do you know that? Right? 

Deborah: Oh, okay. 

Soe Soe: Because of my sister is a disability. That’s why we have a low income, but I working two jobs you know. My rent is going high. 

Pandemic Days/16:10

Deborah: So what’s happening now with the coronavirus?

Soe Soe: Coronavirus is really crazy for scary and then yeah. 

Deborah: Are you staying home? Are you are you working? Tell me what’s happening for you. 

Soe Soe: I working. And then I work in the bank. The bank is not closed. 

Deborah: Okay. And do you wear a mask? 

Soe Soe: I wear when I’m going to work I wear then. But the bank is not closed, but our branch is drive through only. Drive through only. Then drive through. They can cash it. And the deposits. We can do that drive through and then not in the lobby. The lobby is closed. And then now is we have a special is every once, three days a week we have to work. 

Deborah: Okay. So is this giving you financial hardship? 

Soe Soe: Yeah, three day for 20 hours, while we working that they pay a full-time 40 hour. 

Deborah: Oh, they’re paying you for full time. 

Soe Soe: Full-time but we have to work only 20 hours. 

Deborah: Oh, that’s a good, that’s pretty good. 

Soe Soe: Yeah, that is good. Yeah. Good for that. Yeah. 

The Hardest Thing/17:35

Deborah: What’s the hardest thing for you coming to this country and leaving Burma behind? 

Soe Soe: Because hard thing is no and no understanding and then no English words. Well, that is a really hard, still hard for me. Now I cannot do the drive-thru. 

Deborah: What do you miss from Myanmar? From Burma? 

Soe Soe: I miss my sister. When we got here and then my daddy applied for her. For her family have to come in, she have a husband and son, one son. And then he applied me for my, my daddy applied the for her. Now we have a waiting list, long time. And then my daddy, is he applied for all orderly, and then she’s still waiting, but we got it here. And then we’ll come here. Then my family still in Burma. She’s still waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. And then my daddy is passed away. 

Deborah: Right.

Soe Soe: She’s still waiting. And that 2006. My daddy passed away in 2005 January, and then we get my, my daddy applying for her paperwork is that we accept it 2005 December. 

Deborah: And you’re still waiting. 

Soe Soe: My sister still waiting. And then paper comment is 2005 December. My daddy passed away in 2005, January, and then my daddy is a sponsor. Right. But my daddy passed away. They got a paperwork. 

Deborah: So can you be her sponsor? 

Soe Soe: I cannot do that. I tried it and then I, I get a wrong lawyer or something like that. I did it. We did not joint. I try not to, try to be a co-sponsor for her, but he cannot sign it. Do you have my daddy’s signature. 

Deborah: Do you have a green card? 

Soe Soe: I have a citizen. 

Deborah: When did you become a citizen? 

Soe Soe: 2008. Oh, I forgot it. I pass it. 

Deborah: That’s something to be proud of. No? 

Soe Soe: Yeah. I’m so proud of about 2008. Yeah, I get a citizen. American citizen. 

Deborah: Good for you. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. 

Deborah: That’s great. 

Soe Soe: Yeah.

Things from Burma/20:10

Deborah: So, what else can you tell me? Is there some little object or something that you brought with you from Burma that you’ve always had with you? Maybe something you carry in your pocket book, maybe some piece of jewelry or some, something from? 

Soe Soe: Yeah, I have, I have like jewelry too. 

Deborah:What did you bring that you still have?

Soe Soe: I bring all gold. Gold jewelry. I have a lot of gold. But when we came is not, we cannot bring a lot. And then, but 2002 then 2019 is four times back home four time already back home. I always, I have a chance I’m going back home already. Four time already, because 2009, 2011, 2015. And then 2017. I went back home four time already. 

Deborah: Oh, that’s great. Because you’re a citizen. So you have no problem. 

Soe Soe: Yeah, I am a citzen. Yeah. I a citizen in 2008. And then I went back home in 2009. Right. 


Deborah: What if you were going to give advice to somebody coming to this country for the first time. What, advice? Both cautious. Maybe they have an unrealistic idea about what it’s going to be like here. What, what advice would you say? 

Soe Soe: In here? What I like it? 

Deborah: What would you tell them? Somebody from coming from your country to give advice to them, what would you say?

Soe Soe: Every, I don’t know in my country. I’m working hard myself in the United States, you know. I get a lot of hard time and then I have a working hard and the language is different. Here is really hard time. But, in my country, when I go there to visit all of them think I come from Heaven.

Deborah: Your people there. 

Soe Soe: I come that from Heaven. It’s Heaven. 

Deborah: What do you say to them? When you say, you say it’s not Heaven. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. They thought my house have a money tree in my house that I said that I have to working hard. Everybody not only me. American people are working hard. But right. Is in there human right is really good. And then in my country is really. We cannot talk about the government and then we can not talk about the president. We can not complain about anything, anytime that that is a you go to the jail. Any time. That is the problem. 

Deborah: So when you go, when you go there for visits, you have to be very careful. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. Yeah. We cannot. Yeah. In my country is like that. It’s coffee shop. And then you talk about the government is no good. And then you complain about the government. 

Deborah: Who’s listening? How do you know somebody is listening? 

Soe Soe: Yeah, we don’t know that. We don’t know that. We talk about that with our friend. At night you have to go to the jail. You have to go to the jail at night. They come to pick you up at night. 

Deborah: Wow.

Soe Soe: Yeah. Oh, I talking there and all in the morning and then you are in the jail at night and my country is like that. We cannot say nothing for, one of my, my second cousin, he draw, he is a cartoonist.

Deborah: Oh, a cartoonist.  

Soe Soe: Yeah. He draw for the government picture and then like a, like a crazy government picture and then he draw it and he go to the jail. 

Deborah: Did they arrest him? 

Soe Soe: Yeah. 

Deborah: Is he still in prison? 

Soe Soe: He is outside right now. He was in 1988. He have in jail in 1988. Nineteen eighty eight is the very hardest time in my country. 

Deborah: But that wasn’t why you came, you came here because of your father’s illness, right?

Soe Soe: Yeah. When I came here my daddy is really sick. And then my, my sister have a baby at the same time. It’s a difficult for them, you know, difficult for and but we have a plan for to come in. We have a visa. Is that time is good in that I’m not thinking about anything. Okay. I have to come in with  my sister has been at.

Deborah: Yeah. But then 9/11 happened and it lost a year. You lost a year. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. I waiting for not full a year. Tell me it’s over. 


Deborah: So tell me, Soe Soe, what are your dreams about the future? Do you have any dreams about the future? 

Soe Soe: I want to own the house.

Deborah: That’s a good one. Do you have a family? Are you are you married? Do you have children? 

Soe Soe: I’m not. I don’t have a kid. I don’t have a marry. And then I have to do my side is hard. Yeah, I buy them myself. My sister stayed with my sister and she cannot working, but the government’s supposed to have, but my rent is my rent is not really bad. Yeah. No it’s income. Yeah. Low income. 

Wrapping up/26:04

Deborah: All right. Do you have any questions you want to ask me? 

Soe Soe: No. You have a question and then I want to answer that it. 

Deborah: Yeah. But I like what you said about when you go to Myanmar they think that you come from Heaven and that you have a money tree in your house. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. 

Deborah: They don’t know how hard you worked. 

Soe Soe: Yeah. They don’t know I’m a really hard, but they don’t like that. Yeah. Not in my my family in my relatives, but in the airport, we’ve got an airport and then somebody delivery for the luggage to our car and then a base men they carry for that. We have to pay money. They look at it in there. Name tag. Right? We have a luggage and my name tag on that. And then my name is Soe Soe Mar. I come from addresses. One week the luggage was missing and then when we get at it that’s why we have to write down the address. The carrier said, “Oh,” but the carrier. Yeah. “Oh, she comes up from United States. The United States. Oh! Oh!” Oh my God. That in the airport. In the airport. Not in my family. Yeah. They don’t want me. And then I never met them too. I’ve come from Heaven. 

Deborah: That’s so funny. Thank you so so much.I really enjoyed it. 

Soe Soe: Thank you.  

Deborah: Thank you so much.

Soe Soe: Thank you so much. Bye have a nice day. Thank you. Bye.

Soe Soe’s resilience in the face of loss of loved ones and her dedication to succeed no matter how hard the task has enabled her to build a life of great purpose and meaning in her new country. When she travels back to her native country of Myanmar, she laughs when strangers see her luggage name tags from the U.S., convinced she must have a money tree growing in her living room. Instead, she tells them hard work and perseverance are what paved the way.

Guest Introduction
Getting to the U.S.
Soe Soe's Work Life Begins
Opportunity Appears
Pandemic Days
The Hardest Thing
Things from Burma
Giving Advice
Future Dreams
Wrapping Up