The Country’s First Bhutanese Official Marks a Changing Suburb
Having the right to vote is something that can be taken for granted in our country. In Franklin County’s Nov. 5 election, just under 23% of registered voters actually cast a ballot.
It’s not something taken for granted by Bhuwan Pyakurel. In this past election, he reportedly became the first Bhutanese-American elected to office in the country. A refugee by way of Nepal, getting the chance to serve his community is something he doesn’t take for granted.
Pyakurel was born in Bhutan, a small country in Southeast Asia. In the early 1990s, the country’s government forced out one-sixth of its population, forcing them to survive in Nepalese refugee camps for 18 years.
“[Bhutan] didn’t allow us to live there because of the color of our skin, because the language we spoke, because of the faith we belonged to, because the ethnicity of ours,” says Pyakurel. “We didn’t have power, no money, nothing.”
Once it was clear returning to Bhutan after that time was not an option, over half a dozen countries, including the U.S., offered to accept the refugees.
In 2009 Pyakurel and his family arrived in Colorado. Due to health problems his father was experiencing, the family moved to Columbus in 2015. At the time they settled in the Northland area, before moving into a house — “first house in life,” he says — in Reynoldsburg in 2016.
There was already a significant Nepalese and Bhutanese population in Reynoldsburg before they got there, however Pyakurel has seen a steady increase over the years.
According to him, one reason is its school district — “Most of the Bhutanese are looking for a better schools for their children” — and another is its housing and attractive job market — “The housing price is better there, so a lot of people are moving there. And job market is better also for people who have limited English.”
Pyakurel decided to run for office because he never had the right to before. Even before being forced out of Bhutan, people of his ethnic group did not have many of the rights afforded to the country’s ruling class.
“‘One day I will be into the public arena and make some contribution to this nation, which has given me, given us, so much,’” he said. Now, as he recognizes the issues affecting his community — aging sidewalks and streets, lack of code enforcement, and strained communication between City Hall and residents — he actually has the opportunity to serve his community and wants to be a part of the solution.
In this election, the city of Reynoldsburg elected all Democrats. In addition to Pyakurel, three Black women became the first to be elected to Reynoldsburg City Council. The city hasn’t elected a single Democrat to city-wide office since 2009.
Pyakurel says that the demographics of Reynoldsburg City Hall did not match the demographics he sees around the city. He thinks changes were needed, and the change people were asking for has happened.
“A lot of people in the City Hall, those who are in the decision making, they were prioritizing some other things than the concerns of the people,” he says. “I think Reynoldsburg was, and is, in need of change. And now, it’s on us.”
When you talk to Pyakurel, it’s clear he’s grateful to be in the U.S., which makes his concerns for his community all the more valid. On more than one occasion he refers to Reynoldsburg by its sanctioned motto, “The City of Respect,” but also has a healthy amount of critiques in the way the city operates.
He says to be able to do so is a privilege that’s not possible in “any other nation on Earth,” in his experience.
“One day I was considered by the country where I was born, by the country which I think was my country, a second class citizen. And this country gave us second chance,” says Pyakurel. “They not only give us a territory, a land, they also opened their heart and embrace us and include us in all these things, and gave us an opportunity to run for office, and gave us an opportunity to serve this community.”
For more information, visit www.ci.reynoldsburg.oh.us.