Hari Maya Acharya passed away in Manchester on Friday, June 21. She died of natural causes at the age of 91. She lived in Manchester for the last four years of her life. She never learned English, did not have a job, and rarely left her home. Her life here in our city, however, was a great gift to her and her family but also to the residents of the Manchester and the citizens of the United States.
Hari Maya grew up in Bhutan. Her family was prosperous. Her husband was a business owner who died at the age of 37. Her son, Hom, and his five brothers established a thriving import business and Hom, a successful entrepreneur, became a leader in their community.
Her life, until 1990, was stable, happy and largely unremarkable. That year though, things changed. Her son was taken away to prison although he had committed no crime. The government had decided that it no longer wanted the ethnic Nepali community, whose history in Bhutan extended back for more than 200 peaceful years, to remain in the country.
There was little news of her son in prison. He was tortured. At one point, she was told her son was dead. After a few years, her family learned that her son was being released but there was little joy as the family understood they had to flee the country immediately with only what they could carry as they journeyed to India on foot. Turned out of her home, denied the citizenship she had held for 70 years from birth, she made her way to a refugee camp in Nepal with more than 100,000 members of her community. She lived there, in a bamboo hut with no running water or electricity for the next 16 years.
In 2009, at the age of 87, Hari Maya and her family were accepted for resettlement to the United States. With no prospect of returning to Bhutan, she and her family had lived with no hope, no future, no country. Now they were given a new home and a new life. For her, it was too late to work in Manchester, to learn the language or to engage in the community, but her presence here mattered. She stayed with her son and daughter-in-law and saw her son recover from the scars of torture through the medical care available in our city. She saw her grandson and his wife become leaders in their community in New Hampshire and begin careers. She moved with her family into a house in the North End of Manchester. A tree-lined street and beautiful home as far from the refugee camp as can be imagined. She also met and lived with her great grandson, the first member of her family born in the United States.
This city, this state, this nation gave her family a home and a future. She died knowing that they were safe and thriving, that their 20-year ordeal was truly over, and that they were now free to chart their own destiny. Despite arriving in Manchester in the last few years of her long life, she gave us a gift of equally great value. Her children are now part of our future and contribute to our community. Her grandchildren are starting businesses and pursuing careers in health care and engineering. Her great-grandchildren are and will be the students who will become the young workers we need to keep our city and state thriving.
But her personal journey is perhaps her greatest gift to us. As a nation, we chose to rescue this 87 year-old woman, affirming both our original democratic ideals and our hope for future generations of Americans.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Hari Maya allowed these United States to show the world that we understand what it means to be bound to each other by our common humanity. That being a person implies a sense of community that transcends borders, and oceans, and language, and race, transcends class, and creed. Hari Maya’s acceptance here proved that we, as Americans, are committed, absolutely, to freedom and justice for all.
Bill Gillett is a member of the board of directors of the International Institute of New England and a Manchester resident.