After coming to Western New York as a teenager from Burma, Ba Zan Lin went to UB for his undergraduate education and Buffalo State for his masters. Since arriving here, he has worked with a number of different organizations on issues of the environment, refugee and financial literacy. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KN: How long have you lived in Buffalo?
Ba Zan Lin: I’ve been living in Buffalo for over 11 years, since 2006. I was born and raised in Burma, I came to the United States in January of 2006, and came to Fredonia — I didn’t come to Buffalo straight, I came to Fredonia for my first semester there, and then a good friend of mine and I came down to Buffalo for a visit. I saw a couple Burmese people, and I was quite surprised, like, “What are these people doing in the middle of winter?” So I stopped by, and I realized there was this whole Burmese community. So I decided to move to Buffalo.
KN: You’ve done work on financial literacy?
BZL: Right after my graduation from UB I was recruited by PUSH Buffalo for a program called PUSH Green. Essentially, we had to reach out to a lot of communities and educate them about the way they can save money. At the same time, I was an AmeriCorps member with Opportunity Core program, so one of my main functions was to reach out to individuals and educate them about finances. For instance, you would be surprised, many people in Western New York had no idea how to open a bank account.
KN: You’ve been doing that work since?
BZL: I only did for one year, because as an AmeriCorps, my time completed right after 10 months, and then I stayed with PUSH Buffalo briefly afterwards. (Then) I moved on and I joined Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper as a project coordinator. I worked with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper for three years.
KN: Would you talk about the work you did with Riverkeeper?
BZL: I’m from Burma, right? So I love fish. Many Burmese people love to eat fish, because our culture is so intertwined with fish. But if you go out and purchase fish in the super markets it’s super expensive. But we still love fish. So what Burmese people do when they can’t get enough fish, they actually go out and fish in the local waterways, without realizing that the local waterways have been severely contaminated.
So my job at Riverkeeper was to reach out to the Burmese people, and not just the Burmese people, also many immigrant populations, you know, African Americans, Latinos, and even Caucasian Americans, there are pockets of individuals who still sustain through fishing in Western New York. I reach out to these people and educate them on what’s going on in the local waterways, and that if they eat those fish, eat them in a healthy way.
KN: What are you doing now?
BZL: I’m currently a research associate with Via Evaluation Our researchers go to the company, and we evaluate a of programs, a lot of grant funded programs and non-grant funded programs, all over New York State and also different parts of the country.
KN: You were part of the recent Water Festival?
BZL: I’ve been one of the organizers of the (Burmese) Water Festival for almost five years. This is the fifth annual Water Festival. Well, even before I came here there was a small water festival in Buffalo, but most of the festival happened either indoors, or in someone’s home. (Now) we’re getting bigger and bigger, the festival is getting bigger and bigger, we’re getting more attention, we’re more organized. I’m glad we’ve come a long way.