Karen / Karenni

Below are categories for questions that have been answered by community members. Keep in mind that the following responses may represent many members of this group but do not represent all people in a community. Not all people from diverse populations conform to commonly known culture-specific behaviors, beliefs and actions. Each person is an individual, as well as a community member.

What cultural / ethnic / religious traditions or beliefs should law enforcement be aware of?

  • Karen and Karenni people are from Burma, which is a multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural society. Many have resettled in the United States because of political turmoil in their homeland. Community members are very connected and seek advice from one another.
  • Most Karen and Karenni people in the United States are Christians, but some are Buddhists.
  • Refugees in San Diego have strong family ties and usually think in terms of the community rather than the individual. Families and friends visit each other freely. They are used to inviting neighbors over to share food and drink.
  • When having conversations, it's typical for friends to walk behind one another. When in Burma, the leader would go first and others would walk carefully behind in single file because of the jungle conditions.

What is the appropriate manner to greet you? (demeanor, non-verbal, body space, handshake, bow, male-female interaction etc.)

  • Both the Karen and Karenni speak dialects of the Karen languages. Interpreters are available through the Karen Organization of San Diego.
  • Karen and Karenni people tend to be shy and do not look at people directly in the face when speaking. Making eye contact is viewed as disrespectful.
  • When a police officer approaches, they may smile or laugh a little to show politeness.
  • Shaking hands creates trust.
  • Signs of respect and politeness in Karen and Karenni culture include crossing arms and keeping hands in pockets.

Who should be addressed or acknowledged first? Who is the head of the household?

  • Families tend to be extended rather than nuclear. It's common for three generations to live together in one household.
  • The second generation is expected to take care of their parents.
  • The father or mother of the second generation should be addressed first and are considered the head of the household.
  • Youth typically speak English, but should not speak on behalf of adults.
  • Karen and Karenni people are very hospitable and may offer food or drink.

What is your view / perception of law enforcement? What has been your community's experience with law enforcement?

  • They have respect for law enforcement rules and regulations in the United States. They feel safe.
  • Elders remember being young and having to run away from soldiers during interrogations at refugee camps in Thailand. They became scared to speak up during conflict because they were abused whether they told the truth or not.