Syracuse family has plenty to give thanks for this year


Syracuse, NY — The Subedi family’s first Thanksgiving in America slipped by in the bustle of arriving in a new country just two weeks before the holiday in 2008. Someone gave the family a turkey for that first Thanksgiving dinner, but they didn’t tell the Bhutanese-Nepali refugees how to cook it.

“It was hard, we couldn’t break it. It was a great time for us to break that turkey,” said Jai Subedi. Eventually they boiled the bird and cut it into small pieces to eat, he said. Learning how to roast a turkey is just one of the adjustments the Subedi family has made in the two years they’ve been in Syracuse.

They’ve experienced their first snow. Their first Thanksgiving. They’ve added a daughter to their family, and everyone who is an adult has a job.

Jai Subedi holds his daughter, Jessica, while having his morning cup of teas as his wife, Hari, cooks a hot cereal breakfast for their daughter. They are Bhutanese-Nepali refugees who, along with Jai's parents, live in an apartment on Syracuse's north side. Jessica was born in Syracuse on Nov. 24, 2009/John Berry

There is no “Thanksgiving” holiday in Bhutan or Nepal that is similar to the American tradition, Subedi said. Even so, he said the family is thankful to be living in their new country where they can freely practice their culture and religion, and have economic opportunities.

One morning this month, Subedi and his family spoke about their first Thanksgiving in America and what it means to them to be here after years of living as refugees. Their second-floor North Side apartment is small, but was gaily decorated with twinkling colored lights for the Hindu festival of Diwali.

The Subedis among the 785 Bhutanese-Nepali refugees who have resettled in Syracuse since 2008. The group is the largest concentration of Bhutanese-Nepalis in New York, according to the U.S. State Department. The State Department has told New York to expect 150 to 200 more Bhutanese-Nepalis to resettle in Syracuse in federal fiscal year 2011, which ends Sept. 30.

When Subedi, his wife, and parents arrived at JFK Airport from Nepal on Nov. 14, 2008, they were scheduled to settle in Texas. They refused to go, insisting instead that they be settled in Syracuse to be near Subedi’s 90-year-old grandmother, uncle and his family.

“We have a culture where the family doesn’t want to be separated from each other. Everyone tries to come to where their relatives are already settled. That’s why there are more people seen here,” Subedi said.

One of the first things the Subedis encountered after their arrival was Syracuse’s snow. Although they could see the Himalayans from the refugee camps, they were in the plains and there was never any snow, Subedi said. “The day after I came, the snow was at knee level. It was my first time with snow. I enjoyed it,” he said.

His mother, Lachhi Subedi, 50, is not so impressed. “It’s no good,” she said.

Subedi has a bachelor’s degree in math and economics from Tribhuvan University in Nepal. After arriving in Syracuse he quickly found a job making sandwiches at a Subway restaurant. “It isn’t hard for the Bhutanese who are employable and have English to be employed in Syracuse,” Subedi said. “These people will be successful.”

After arriving in Syracuse, Subedi began volunteering to greet new arrivals at the airport, and help them move through the system in their new home. The Center for New Americans has since hired him as a refugee caseworker.

Every adult in the Subedi household has a job. His wife, Hari Subedi, 27, is a certified nursing assistant at the Iroquois Nursing Home. His mother folds curtains at Syracuse Scenery & Stage Lighting, and his father, Chuda Subedi, 52, works as a houseman at Springhill Suites.

The only one not working is Jessica, the daughter of Jai and Harir; she was born in Syracuse on Nov. 24 last year.

Subedi said his career plans reach beyond working at the refugee center. “My intention is to start my own business and settle permanently in America,” he said.

Subedi is working with Hari Adhikari, another refugee who is a caseworker at Catholic Charities. The two are working to establish a nonprofit Bhutanese-Nepali community center to preserve the culture, teach the language to children and English to adults, and to hold some religious activities, Subedi said.

The family had heard about the Christmas holiday from Christians in the camps in Nepal, but no one ever mentioned Thanksgiving, Subedi said.

This year, they plan to attend a program at the Nepali church at The Father’s Heart Ministries on the North Side, and they’ll have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, Subedi said. They’ll skip the boiled turkey, he said.

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