The Bhutanese-Nepalis who run and are served by ARU belong to an ethnic minority group in Bhutan. They had been living there for generations, and they called Bhutan their home. When Bhutan's King declared "One Nation, One People" policy on January 6th, 1989, thousands of ethnically Nepali people were forced to flee their home. People were dehumanized, tortured, and even killed. Over one-hundred-thousand Nepali-Bhutanese left Bhutan due to ethnic cleansing. Many families were separated. Through Bhutan’s successful public relations and green washing “Gross National Happiness” campaign, the story of the Bhutanese refugees has been covered up and is largely unknown in the USA, where over 100,000 refugees were resettled by the Bush II administration.
Isolated from their homeland and their culture, they lost any connection to traditional culture, to their land, while also faced trying to find their place in their new culture of Oakland. This refugee group suffers high rates of mental health struggles including depression and suicide.
Though resettled in the same area, many had not met each other. Asian Refugees United brought the Bhutanese refugees of Oakland‘s Fruitvale district together for the first time and facilitated the formation of the Bay Area Bhutanese Youths.
In 2016, ARU formed a community group who began working with Guggenheim-winning performance artist, Dohee Lee. At the time, the members of the group had little to no performance experience. Over the course of the last three years, they have been meeting for weekly workshops and created 10 performances featuring the original words and movement of the Bhutanese storytellers group. Together with Dohee Lee, they have developed a process for turning their personal stories into public performance. This work has empowered members of the group to discover and claim their artistic voices. Members are now taking leadership roles in their community, working on public health initiatives, intergenerational community building initiatives and other projects. The process that Dohee and ARU developed of turning personal narrative into multidisciplinary performance has become a model that is being replicated in diverse communities nationally and internationally.
It is through this work that this group has now launched The Storytellers.