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New American Voices: Family Escapes Repression, Finds Peace In Central Ohio

In the latest installment of 89.7’s New American Voices series, a profile of Tursunay Awut, a member of the Eurasian ethnic group known as Uyghurs. She and her family left China several years ago and eventually settled in Bexley.

  For centuries, tensions have simmered between Uyghurs and their rulers especially in China where there are as many as 15 million.    

TV Documentary: The Uyghurs are Turkic speaking Sunni Muslims who’ve been ruled by local warlords, Chinese emperors, and Mongolian raiders, with only brief tastes of independence. 

In this documentary from Journeyman Pictures a group of Uyghurs complains about the injustices they suffer.  Equality with Chinese one Uyghur says, is a lie. 

The communist government says Uyghurs propagate separatist notions.  A Uyghur who came to Central Ohio from China says their customs, traditions and religion are all sources of friction.   TursunayAwut says life under the Chinese regime was difficult.

“They push you, you know?  School.  Job.  Any place.  It’s just hard to you. For China’s peoples it’s different. For us it’s just hard and dangerous. 

So after 30 years, Tursunay, along with her husband, left China for Kazakhstan.  There they appealed for United Nations refugee status.  The UN told them to wait.

“They say, ‘Okay, just wait.  They cannot choose which country they can send you to.’ So my two daughters [were] born in Kazakhstan,” Tursunay says. 

After three years the family learned they were headed to the U.S.  They settled outside Washington, D.C. But even with her husband working seven days a week, Tursunay says the family couldn’t make ends meet.

“Rent is very expensive.  For immigrants and refugees it’s hard to live there, you know? And then we were just thinking, the United States have 50 states, you know?  We can choose like [a] cheaper [place],” Tursunay says.

That’s how they found Columbus. The family of five arrived in 2013, but after only a few months living on the South Side, Tursunay says they discovered a bullet hole in their front door. They were scared, she says.  So they recently moved to Bexley.

“Bexley is a very nice and a clean and a quiet place.  The neighborhood is also very nice.  The school also.  The kids like it also.  The kids like anywhere.  They’re happy for us,” she says.

Tursunay says she’s just as happy with the United States.

“Here is like you’re free.  We like it here.  We like the USA, yeah, and religion’s free and anything is free.  China is not a democracy,” Tursunay says.

Tursunay says she cannot understand the Chinese government’s attitude toward Uyghurs where they’re treated worse than second class citizens. 

“We don’t understand why it is, you know, if China’s government keeps us like this, you know, if China’s government was not hard like pushing us, most of the people, they like us, but, I don’t know, it’s political.  I don’t know,” Tursunay says.

Tursunay says her family has been spreading the word about Columbus to other Uyghurs. 

“After we came here last year [indistinct] families from California moved here, after we tell them, you know, what happened here.  California is also very expensive.  And then one family from Virginia, also.  Right now with us there are three families,” Tursunay says.

Tursunay says she’s happy she’s found her new home.

“Yeah, I’m so happy.  We all like it, you know?  Yeah, I have job, my kids are in school, we live in Bexley right now.  Yeah.  We’re okay now,” Tursunay says.

Support for New American Voices comes from Ohio Humanities.