Kamana Khadka, MPH
“Birthdays are not important to me. It does not mean anything.”
- Ms. Emma Ditsworth
The State Department and the United Nations must have found Emma’s family tradition in Taiwan of celebrating birthdays on Chinese New Years day very fascinating. Just like Emma’s family, majority of our refugee friends in the United States celebrate their birthdays today, on January 1st. Refugees who do not know their date of birth are assigned 1/1. This is not a formal policy, but it is commonly practiced around the world with refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Burma, and elsewhere.
I have asked many of my refugee friends, “How do you feel about sharing your birthday with so many?” and they often laugh and answer, “Coming to America is like being born again. So it is my birthday.”
Being born and brought up in Nepal, where birthdays are so important, not just for celebration purposes, but also religious, there is a tiny part in me that feels a little sad that so many have to share one birthday. At the same time, I do understand the importance of having exact birth dates while living in the United States. As soon as refugees sets foot on United States, 1/1 becomes their identity, as it is recorded in their driver’s license, social security cards, health insurance, and almost all documents. Let us all hope that the authorized personnel overseas are always correct while assigning the birth years. Otherwise, can you imagine all the problems a 16-year-old refugee, whose age was wrongly recorded as 19 years, would go through while seeking admission at schools in the United States? He/she would be denied admission.
As I send my wishes for a very Happy New Year, 2014, I would also like to wish all my dear friends who celebrate their birthdays today, a very Happy Birthday; you are a year older.