When I first called Mu Say to ask if I could write a short story about her and take her picture, she answered me quietly and in almost perfect English, “I am sorry but can you repeat that? I don’t speak English.” I knew right at that moment she was being overly modest. Mu Say was born in Burma but spent 18 years at a refugee camp in Thailand, where her son was born. Mu Say arrived in Utah on a snowy day in March. “It was so cold and so much snow! In my country there is no snow.”
She explained that it was difficult for her when she first arrived in Salt Lake City. Her family was the only Karen Burmese in town and she didn’t speak any English. In fact she was illiterate in her native language. She remembers one day being asked to write her name. “I didn’t even know how to write my own name,” she told me in a good-humored tone as her timid smile stretched across her soft-featured face.
I didn’t know Mu Say when she arrived in Utah years ago, but the woman I know today is incredibly successful and very humble. She became a US citizen and proudly goes to school every single day to practice her English and other studies. She is respectful, helpful, and now has a great community here in Salt Lake. When I asked her about her community she said quietly and bashfully, “Oh… community? I am sorry I don’t know what that means.” After explaining the concept to her she smiled and replied, “Oh yeah. I have a big community!” She has a gentle but at the same time incredibly strong presence.