Members of the Burmese community in Burlington, Vermont, gathered on Thanksgiving to express gratitude for recent free elections in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
The election of a civilian government in Myanmar, to be led by Nobel Peace laureate and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy, marked a major step in what has been a slow transition away from military dictatorship, several Burmese people now living in Vermont said.
"We couldn't do nothing in our country," said Myo Thant, explaining he came to the United States from Myanmar on a diversity immigrant visa. "Right now, it's changing. They will like to have free speech."
The Burlington area is home to dozens of families who left Myanmar as refugees, fleeing decades of civil war and government suppression of differing opinions.
"The American government has been so great to us; so helpful," Khin Zaw Aung, who said he came to Vermont as a refugee, told necn through an interpreter.
Refugees have been the subject of passionate debates across the country in the wakes of the Paris terror attacks. Investigators are looking into whether the planner of the attack exploited the Syrian refugee crisis to help him enter Paris.
Since the attacks, more than half the country's governors have expressed concern that President Obama's pledge to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. over the next year could be risky, perhaps opening the door to people who want to do our country harm.
On Thanksgiving, the President told Americans the country should welcome refugees, saying security screenings into their backgrounds are extremely rigorous.
"No refugee can enter our borders until they undergo the highest security checks of anyone traveling to the United States," Obama said in his weekly address. "That was the case before Paris, and it is the case now."
The Burmese refugees necn met in Burlington said--on the most American of holidays--that they regularly give thanks for the opportunities given to them and their families by living in the United States.
"We are so thankful," Khin Zaw Aung said through an interpreter.