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A Marriage Made in Akron Thanks to President Bush

Tiffany Stacy holding daughter Paulina
Paulina learns a new English word, Sky. Her mother, Tiffany Stacy, says she and her brother are growing up immersed in three languages: English, Nepali and Limbu.

Over the last decade, the International Institute of Akron brought thousands of people from Nepal to Akron. It also brought Tiffany Ann Stacy and Amber Subba together. Theirs is the first – and believed to be only – mixed-marriage so far between a Bhutanese refugee and an Akron-area native.

Tiffany Stacy dives immediately into the story of her romance with Amber Subba, describes the personalities of their two children, talks about her relationship with her in-laws - worries worry about the impact of America’s politics on refugees.

Her husband is pretty much the opposite.

“I don’t like to be loud," Subba laughs. "I don’t want to be open with people all of the sudden."

Stacy thinks about it.

“We’re both extreme versions of our own culture," she concludes. "Nepali people on average are more private and quiet and indirect. He’s extremely so. Americans on average are more loud and open and I’m extremely so ."

Her husband laughs again. But, the couple adds, it works.

Thanks in a way to President George W. Bush. In 2006, he decided the 100,000 Bhutanese in seven camps in Nepal were a U.S. concern. In 2007, the screening of some 60,0000 of them and work with local resettlement agencies, like the International Institute of Akron, began. And in 2008, Subba and his family arrived.

Meanwhile, Stacy, raised by her grandparents, had followed her grandfather’s advice and gone to college instead of working at the Chrysler plant in Twinsburg.

She intended to join the Peace Corps, but a Kent State professor advised her to "'think global, act local. If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity you should go and work with refugees on North Hill. And so I took an internship at the International Institute.”

And that’s where she first spotted Subba, a new interpreter.

“I thought he was the cutest thing I’d ever seen, Stacy said. "I was very young at the time and shy and we spent a few months staring at each other and our fellow office workers making comments about - Would we just date already.’

The extended Subba/Stacy familiy
The extended Subba/Stacy familiy. Like many Nepali families, the parents live with their adult children and help care for the grandchildren.

A first and still a bit of a curiosity
Eventually, he asked her if she liked him, she mumbled a response, he kissed her. And five years ago, they got married. They acknowledge their intermarriage came early in the evolution of a refugee community and it’s still a curiosity.

Subba says he gets questions, mostly from the very old and very young in the Bhutanese community. "One boy even said, ‘Can you just, what do you call, sell her and get married to a Nepali lady?'"

What about the rice?
Stacy says she gets polite questions from the Bhutanese about their marriage.

“I find most people are very welcoming of it. Some people are amused," she said. "They ask me a lot of questions, like if I eat rice or not. It seems to be a primary concern of the elderly."

She assures them she does eat rice, but not for breakfast.

As for the broader Akron community, Stacy says there’s barely a ripple. Most Northeast Ohioans know nothing of the Nepali refugee story and assume they’re just another mixed marriage of immigrant and native born.

Bhutanese-Nepali-Americans live here
In some ways – beginning with the dozens of pots of outsized marigolds in the front yard – their home in Cuyahoga Falls is traditional Nepali. The garland hangs on the door. The jars of gundruk – with lettuce fresh from the garden – ferment in the back yard.

And the family is an extended one. His parents, Dhan Tumbapoo and Khadga Subba, live with them. The families of a brother and sister live nearby.

Overall Stacy says, “The best thing is I’m never lonely. The worst thing is, I’m never alone.”

She says nearly 4-year-old Silas and 18-month-old Paulina love it.

“My kids don’t go to daycare. They’re going to spend the day in the garden, digging in the dirt, growing vegetables and learning two languages,” Stacy said.

The kids are actually learning three languages if you count the Subba tribal language of Limbu. And then there’s the language of music.

Amber Subba composes, sings and plays instruments like the harmonium – think of an accordion turned on its side and set in an elaborate wooden box. Paulina is absorbed, her mother says she is fascinated by the music, language and culture of Nepal. Silas plays the drums, but knows his father's music. When Subba used to be on the road performing, his father's CD's were the only thing that made him stop crying.

Amber Subba plays the harmonium
Amber Subba plays the harmonium as well as guitar and traditional Nepali instruments. He says he and some of his friends started out self-taught as they grew up in the camps in Nepal.

The International Institute in the Age of Donald Trump
Neither Subba nor Stacy are with the International Institute any more. President Trump’s drastic cuts in refugees led to layoffs. She now consults with employers on cross-cultural issues. He works for the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services.

But both worry about the future for their extended family and refugee community. Stacy remembers her father-in-law’s pride when he voted in his first election in 2015.

“Every time he came home, he would put his little ‘I voted’ sticker on this photo of himself as a young man on the wall.”

Last year changed that.

“The day of the election, he looked at me and he said ‘I don’t think it matters. They don’t want us,’" Stacy said.

All she could do, she says, is what she hopes other do, assure them they're all wanted.

AN EXPLAINER: Is it Bhutanese or Nepali?

Many of the refugees identify themselves as Bhutanese, many as Nepali, many as both, and increasingly, many as Bhutanese-Nepali-Americans.

Here's why: About 270 miles of northern India separates Nepal and Bhutan. For more than a century, Nepali-speaking people known as Lhotshampas had settled in southern Bhutan, though they maintained their own language and culture.

When the Bhutanese government began a “One Nation, One People” policy in the 1980s, that led to jailing, loss of citizenship and property and the eventual expulsion of as many as 100,000 Lhotshampas. For the next two decades, they lived in what grew to be seven refugee camps in southeast Nepal. Amnesty International called it “one of the most protracted and neglected refugee crises in the world.”

In late 2006, President Bush announced that the United States would resettle as many as 60,000 of the refugees here, and that number is now closer to 85,000.

AN EXPLAINER: What’s a refugee?

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, refugees are people who:

  • Are located outside the United States
  • Are of special humanitarian concern to the United States
  • Demonstrate that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
  • Are not firmly resettled in another country
  • Are admissible to the United States

For the legal definition of refugee, see section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Read more about screening process for refugees applying to come to the United States.

Read the update on refugees posted by the U.S. State Department the day President Trump was inaugurated.

President Trump announced last week he is capping the number of refugees allowed in the United States over the fiscal year that began Sunday at 45,000. Refugee resettlement agencies like the International Institute of Akron had been hoping for at least 75,000. President Obama had approved 110,000.

This story is part of a collaboration between WKSU and the Huffington Post on the integration of Bhutanese-Nepali refugees, who began their migration to Akron a decade ago.