“Rohingya is our identity.… we will not let it be erased.” 

By Zaw Win 

(Bangkok, October 6, 2023)—Over decades, genocide and other atrocity crimes against ethnic-Rohingya people in Myanmar have displaced millions to countries worldwide, including the U.S.. Today, many Rohingya in exile have formed active diaspora networks, giving back to their communities and preserving their culture and way of life amid the ongoing genocide. 

After fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar and surviving years as a refugee in Malaysia, Nasir Zakaria arrived in the U.S. city of Chicago, Illinois, in 2013. Three years later, in 2016, he founded the Rohingya Culture Center (RCC) in Chicago. 

Nasir Zakaria works at his office at the RCC in Chicago. ©Fortify Rights, 2023

“We need this place because every community has its own place and offices so that they can help their own communities,” the 42-year-old Nasir told Fortify Rights. “Our employees are from the Rohingya community. We have interpreters from our own community in the RCC so that they can help our community.” 

The RCC provides needs-based services to the Rohingya community, including cultural programs and capacity-building activities. 

“We keep the door of the Rohingya Culture Center open for everyone,” Nasir said. “People can have access to our center as soon as possible if any help is needed.” 

The RCC in Chicago, serving the needs of the growing Rohingya refugee community. ©Fortify Rights, 2023

Nasir wants the center to help Rohingya children in Chicago learn about their culture and preserve it. “As we have no written language, we are trying to teach [Rohingya] to our children and advising them to speak our language,” he said. 

There is no globally agreed-upon written Rohingya script, though Roman and Arabic written scripts are used in “Rohingyalish” and “Hanifi Rohingya,” respectively.

“We are also providing religious classes and trying to improve them for the future,” Nasir added. “Secondly, we are also teaching about our culture. We are also trying to practice our religion.” 

Rohingya children learn the Quran and religious norms at the RCC in Chicago. ©Fortify Rights, 2023

“Every community has its identity,” Nasir said. “Rohingya is our identity. [Myanmar authorities have] tried to erase [our identity], but we will not let it happen; we will not let it be erased.” 

In addition to supporting the refugee community in Chicago, the RCC also supports Rohingya refugees elsewhere and those still living in Rakhine State. Nasir explained:

We helped our Rohingya communities, not only those who are in America but also those still living in Myanmar. We fundraise during Eid festival, and we help our Rohingya community by distributing food so that the Rohingya people who are living in Bangladesh Rohingya [refugee] camps, Myanmar, India . . . can enjoy the Holy festival every year and eat traditional food.

RCC also conducts advocacy for the rights of the Rohingya globally. 

Nasir was recently part of a delegation with the Rohingya American Council to Washington, D.C., where they met government officials and other stakeholders to push for accountability for crimes in Myanmar and refugee rights. 

During the delegation visit, he said they requested the U.S. government to “stand together for Rohingya refugees and ensure safety and security for our community.” He said the main goal of the Rohingya American Council is to “seek justice for Rohingya.” 

For more information about the Rohingya Cultural Center in Chicago, please visit https://rccchicago.org/.

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