This Independence Day, several Buffalo residents will be celebrating with a special purpose.
A handful of food vendors at West Side Bazaar on Grant Street, will spend their first July 4 as U.S. citizens this year.
“I’m so proud- I’m very happy,” said Shwe, who operates Rakhapura Mutee & Sushi in the bazaar’s food area.
Shwe is originally from the Arakan State of Burma. She received her citizenship on Aug. 3.
“Tomorrow, we will have a small family party- I will barbecue and do my traditional soup,” Shwe said.
Htay Naing owns Nine & Night Authentic Thai Cuisine. Originally from Burma, he came to the U.S. six years ago and received his citizenship last year.
“I felt very free- I kissed it,” Naing said. “I was so happy.”
Buffalo is a far cry from Naing’s home country, where temperatures usually hang around the 80s and 90s.
“It’s a different language, different weather,” he said, adding “I like snow.”
Naing said he plans to celebrate Independence Day with a barbecue in the park with friends and family and watching fireworks.
Wa Wa Khiang is the owner of Wa Wa Asian Snacks, and came to the U.S. about nine years ago for an education.
Passing her citizenship was an exciting moment for her, Khiang said.
“She tested me and said ‘you passed’- I was really happy and excited, my heart was beating,” Khiang said.
She also came to the U.S. from Burma.
“I feel happy- I’m free now, I can do anything,” Khiang said.
Khiang said she’s grateful for what the U.S. offers- democracy, human rights, and Medicaid and welfare programs.
“If we can’t find a job, the government helps,” Khiang said. “Everything is better than other countries.”
West Side Bazaar is a small business incubator, an initiative of the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Inc.
The bazaar allows vendors- immigrants, refugees, or people with low incomes- to start their businesses in food or retail.
“They can be here for three years, and then they move on to start their own storefronts,” said Purnima Mohan, community development director for WEDI.
Some of the vendors who “graduated” from the bazaar have moved on to open their own stores in Buffalo and Toronto.
They currently have a pipeline of interested vendors and are in the process of expansion, Mohan said.
On Wednesday, the Bazaar hosted an Independence Day celebration- with patriotic cupcakes, facepainting and coloring for kids, and food decorated with miniature American flags.
“A lot of our vendors just got their citizenship recently, and we wanted to have a celebration before they go out with their families on July 4,” Mohan explained. “It gives you a sense of the pride and freedom they’ve experienced, because America is the land of opportunities and they get to start their businesses.”
The Bazaar will be closed Thursday in observation of the holiday, but is open for business Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for food and retail sales.
You can find a full list of vendors and menus here.