TWIN FALLS — For Htay Aung Zaw, this Fourth of July was particularly special.

It’s the first one he celebrated as a United States citizen. He arrived in Twin Falls six years ago as a Burmese refugee.

“I am very, very happy,” Zaw said, with a huge smile.

He was among more than 100 attendees Tuesday at the American-Burmese Friendship Organization’s annual Burmese Traditional Water Festival and Fourth of July celebration.

It was the fourth year for the event at Rock Creek Park in Twin Falls.

The Water Festival, or Thingyan Festival, marks the start of the Burmese New Year. It typically falls around mid-April.

But here in Twin Falls, it’s often still cold at that time of year.

“Obviously, it wouldn’t go over too well in April to get everyone wet,” organizer Ken Whiting said. So the group decided to hold festivities on the Fourth of July instead.

And on Tuesday, the weather was certainly warm enough, with the high temperature nearing 100 degrees.

Twin Falls is home to about 150 Burmese refugees. In addition to celebrating the Burmese new year, Tuesday’s event was also a chance to celebrate a new year in the United States, Whiting said.

Among members of the four-year-old American-Burmese Friendship Organization, some have recently become U.S. citizens, Whiting said. And some have children who were born in the U.S.

The Water Festival included Burmese food — and some American favorites such as watermelon — plus traditional dances, a raffle, and of course, a splashy pool and water activities for children.

Attendees, who were wearing colorful plastic leis, sat in lawn chairs in a grassy area underneath trees.

Twin Falls residents Michelle Richman and Eleanor Miller attended the event for the first time. Miller knows organizer Kyi Kyi Whiting through church.

“I think that the dancing is wonderful,” Richman said, adding the children were having fun in the water.

“I think the food is delicious and unique,” Miller said.

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Four elementary school-aged girls performed a dance on a rug serving as a makeshift stage. Family members, including Zaw, took videos using their cell phones.

Zaw and his wife have two children, ages 9 and 5. The family bought a house a couple of years ago, Whiting said.

Their oldest daughter was born in a refugee camp in Malaysia, while their youngest was born in the United States.

Many of the Burmese refugees in Twin Falls came from refugee camps in Thailand and Malaysia, Whiting said. “Many in Thailand were there for years and years and years.”

There are eight major ethnic groups and three major religions — Buddhism, Islam and Christianity — in Myanmar, Whiting said.

All of the three major religions are represented on the board for the American-Burmese Friendship Organization.

And while the Burmese refugees who come to Twin Falls are “all sort of different,” they all have something in common as refugees, he added. “No matter what they are, there’s unity of all.”


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