Burma refugee Robert Shwe is proud of his new citizenship
Indiana’s climate is just one of the few things different than Robert Shwe’s home place of Burma.
“Every day for me is cold,” Shwe said.
The security and comfort he now has is another. Shwe, 40, has a stable job at a company he loves working for and recently became an American citizen.
“I obey the laws and respect everybody. I love America,” he said. “I’m proud to be myself.”
Shwe is training to be a machinist at Standard Locknut, LLC., 1045 E. 169th St., Westfield. Last year, he was nominated as one of the company’s rising star employees.
“I love the machine,” said Shwe. “Everyone is very friendly. I like it so much.”
The path to Westfield was not an easy one for Shwe.
Shwe said he had unstable jobs working at a grocery store and playing soccer in Burma. When the ongoing civil war became worse, Shwe left his mother and sister and decided to go “underground,” illegally to make his way out of the country. Shwe said it was dangerous because he didn’t have a passport and if caught he would be returned to the government to settle his punishment for attempting to leave.
“Most of the people in the country were no good. That time was quite bad,” he said.
Going through the mountains, Shwe made his way to Thailand and then Malaysia where he spent 10 years of his life. To make a living, Shwe worked as a welder in construction before a family took him in as a butler and assist with childcare.
“The American government and United Nations worked together and brought me up,” he said.
After being designated a refugee, Shwe was flown to Buffalo where he spent a couple of months before relocating to Indianapolis. Shwe said he had a friend here and moved to Indiana four years ago.
“The first time I went downtown (Indianapolis) I got lost,” he said. “People are not greedy or fussy. Everything is good for me.”
Shwe began working at Standard Locknut on May 23, 2011.
“During our interview we fell in love with him. He always has a smile on his face. You never see him in a bad mood,” said Jean Vanata, Standard Locknut human resources manager. “He appreciates it because we provided him the opportunity to learn a skill set. We knew his desire to work hard and he has not proved us wrong. He’s just an amazing, great guy.”
When studying for his citizenship test, Shwe said he like learning about the country’s history and presidents.
“There are a lot of opportunities for me, a lot of human rights here,” he said. “Whatever you want to do, inside the law, you can do.”
To celebrate his citizenship, fellow employees members formed a tunnel at the end of his shift and waved USA flags as Shwe walked down the aisle to the song “Proud to be an American.” Afterwards, Shwe was given an American flag cake.
“Big six-foot grown men were standing there and waving flags like a kid at the Fourth of July parade. That speaks volumes,” Vanata said.
Shwe also gave a brief speech of his appreciation.
“I was really, really excited and happy,” he said. “I don’t know how to say thank you to my Standard Locknut family. I felt like an Oscar winner holding the statue.”
Shwe said he eats rice and curry every day and can find his cooking materials at Asian markets or grocery stores. When he is not working third-shift at Standard Locknut, Shwe said he enjoys playing guitar in his house, fishing and being outdoors.
“I was a very good soccer player in my country,” he said. “I wish I could have come to America 10 years earlier to study,” he said.