Portland Bhutanese community holds leadership election

See why the activities at this event are lighthearted, but very serious …

Members of the area’s Bhutanese community gather in outer East Portland for their second annual luncheon and election.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

After eviction from their Himalayan country and languishing in refugee camps for more than 20 years, some 2,000 Bhutanese refugees have made the Portland Metro Area their home since 2008.

The Oregon Bhutanese Community Organization (OBCO) again gathered at David Douglas High School (DDHS) to hold their second annual Election of its Governing Board of Directors, on May 3.

Outgoing OBCO President Chhabi Koirala speaks with members of his community.

“We have been ‘practicing democracy’ for the past two years within our own organization,” remarked outgoing OBCO President Chhabi Koirala.

“It is very important to us because, at this event, our community comes together,” Koirala told East Portland News. “We are working to become self-sufficient. We have to overcome many cultural barriers; by working together we can do better.”

IRCO Asian Family Center Program Coordinator Chiao-Yun Hsiao talks with guests, along with Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Dave Hendrie.

Til Bhujel performs a traditional, cultural dance, Oye Jahr Paat Malai Chinchas.

Hazelwood Neighborhood Association Chair Arlene Kimura lights a candle in memory of victims of the earthquake in Nepal.

While their people are proud to now be living in America, Koirala reflected, “We have different customs than the mainstream society here. We want to preserve our heritage and traditions, as well as adopt new American customs.”

About 300 Bhutanese, from all over Portland and Beaverton, were expected at the mid-County event.

DDHS graduate Hameda Dil Mohamed who is now an intern with the New Portlander Programs stands with its Program Coordinator Ronault “Polo” L. S. Catalani, and DDHS ESL teacher Anne Downing.

Candidates for office introduce themselves from the stage, and tell why electors should vote for them.

Those qualified to vote at this election line up, ready to go into the “election booth” and cast their ballots.

“It’s wonderful to be here with my current, and graduated students,” said DDHS ESL teacher Anne Downing. “Through them, I’ve gotten to know this amazing community.”

In addition to holding the secret-ballot election, the day also included songs and dance performances.

“When we come together for a day like this,” Koirala said, “We feel as if we are not away from home. We are learning that now we belong to the United States. At the same time, we enjoy sharing our culture with our new American neighbors.”

A Bhutanese Community member casts her ballot in the box held by election official Zadok Taylor.

When the results of the election have been made public, we’ll update this story.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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