In earlier posts I reported the facts of the case involving Nunu Sung. I exposed how under the direction of DuPage County State’s Attorney, Bob Berlin, the prosecution team is violating the terms of the plea arrangement (specifically: no party will petition to terminate Nunu’s parental rights). In Part 2, I provided historical background that you may understand the cultural experiences shaping her worldview.
In this post I hope to shed light on the questions I am asked regarding Nunu’s case: “Why did she hide her pregnancy?” “Why didn’t she ask for help?” “Why does she deserve a second chance?”
Betrayal in America
We have learned of the persecution endured by many Burmese, including Nunu’s family, at the hands of the military coup. We have learned of the brutal demonstrations of xenophobia in Malaysia at the hands of police. Nunu’s journey now finds her boarding a plane for America with the hope of starting a new life, a safer life, a stable life. With papers in hand, Nunu entered the United States legally bearing refugee status.
The sponsor agency settled Nunu in Massachusetts. Upon her arrival in the United States, a place of new beginnings and endless possibilities, Nunu Sung, like many relocated refugees, found it difficult to acclimate to life in America, alone. Harsh winter weather, exposure to new foods that upset her system, feeling isolated from the community at large, a language barrier, and expenses beyond income are just a few of the stressors encountered. Searching for community, support, friendship, and an opportunity to be near other Chin, Nunu relocated to Texas within a few months.
Shortly after arriving in Texas, she entered into a relationship with a man full of promises to help her, support her, and love her. While I do not know all the details of their relationship, the little I have been privy to leads me to speculate this man was older than she, used her, and took advantage of her. All of his professions and promises of love and support changed the day she became pregnant. He promptly displaced her, rejected her, and ended the relationship. He renounced any responsibility for the child and closed the door on her. (His dishonorable actions support my assumptions.)
As is proving to be true in Nunu’s experiences, promises made are often easily broken.
Why Did Nunu Hide Her Pregnancy?
At the age of 23, alone, pregnant, ashamed, and scared, Nunu Sung traveled to Illinois to live with family—Burmese refugees themselves, recently relocated to the United States. At the time of her third move, she had been living in America less than one year.
In the Hakha Chin culture it is a violation of tradition to become pregnant before marriage. To do so carries great shame. In such cases women are cast out of families, even villages.
Considering the traumatic events in her life can you imagine, dear reader, how confused, scared, and betrayed Nunu must have felt? First to live as part of an ethnic group oppressed and persecuted by a military regime in her homeland, then to be watchful and cautious of police in Malaysia, only now to be victimized and discarded by a man who vowed to love and care for her in America. It is overwhelming to consider.
Abortion, (her ex-boyfriend’s plan) was not an option for Nunu. She decided to carry the baby to term. Consumed with shame, she hid her pregnancy and hid it well. (Even I never suspected.) I, as did others, noticed her weight gain. I thought this a good sign, a healthy indication she was able to afford a substantial diet—a luxury to many refugees during their first few years of financial struggle in the U.S. I, as did others, noticed how tired she was in the last few months. I thought this a result of working up to 10—12 hour shifts at the factory she was employed. Throughout her pregnancy, Nunu worked long hours in a factory, kept up with housework, laundry and cooking.
Then, carrying the weight of nine months of shame upon her shoulders, unsure where to go for help, she made a mistake that changed her life forever.
Why Didn’t Nunu Ask For Help?
At this point I offer my first disclaimer: I am not Nunu Sung. I do not know the thoughts of her mind that night. I am simply recreating for you, dear reader, the sequence of events that occurred in her life prior to that day in an effort to help you understand her life, her case, her decision.
What I can share with you is what I understand of her context: Nunu was unaware of services and resources available to women in crisis. Considering many Americans are aware of such services themselves how much more so a recently arrived international speaking little English?
Knowing what I do of Nunu Sung, I will assert
- had she known of medical clinics available to the un-insured she would have sought pre-natal and postpartum care.
- had she been aware of assistance programs such as W.I.C (Women, Infants & Children), or L.I.N.K. Program, she would have considered a way to provide for a child on her own as a single-parent.
- had she been aware of the existence of “Safe Havens” (hospitals, emergency centers, police and fire stations) as places to bring a baby with no questions asked, she would have consider this option on the night of delivery.
All I can say to you, dear reader, is looking back on this time in her life, I cannot even begin to imagine how scared, overwhelmed, and confused she must have felt. Individuals in such a frame of mind often do not make rational decisions.
Why Give Nunu A Second Chance?
At this point I offer my second disclaimer: I am not absolving Nunu Sung of her actions. Allow me a moment to state that I believe in laws and rules. I am in no way saying that individuals who commit crimes should go unpunished. Nunu has admitted her guilt, has accepted the consequences. That is not the issue here.
Yet, I do not believe a person should be labeled or defined by those moments of crisis in which they make a mistake. There is always more to the story. In writing this series on Nunu Sung I hope to fill in some of the context for you, that you may be able to see Nunu Sung through eyes of compassion, not hatred. What I want you to know, dear reader, is that Nunu conveyed remorse and apologized for her mistake many times to case workers, judges, attorneys, family, and friends.
What is past is past and cannot be changed. What Nunu chooses to focus on every day of her life now, is her son, Joshua.
I also believe that in such cases consisting of demonstration of remorse and guilt, coupled with consistent efforts to meet court requirements, every avenue should be utilized toward the goal of reconciling and reuniting families. Part of that process involves humanizing the accused to the larger community in order to understand the “why’s” surrounding their behavior. In some small way I hope I am accomplishing this.
What I hope to convey, dear reader, is the promptness in which Nunu repented for her actions. Within hours after her mistake, she asked for her son. She was denied.
Heartbroken, Nunu vowed to do whatever necessary to see her son and get him back.
So began what has become to this day a two-and-a-half year battle to gain custody of her son. At every step she’s complied with the requirements of the service plan in place. At every turn she adapted to the case workers or courts requirements. She has demonstrated a noticeable, genuine, bond with her son. She has contributed to his upbringing by providing for his care. She has attended and cherished every supervised visit with her son. She willingly entered into a plea deal with the promise and backing of the court that no party involved would petition to violate her parental rights and that Joshua would be given back to Nunu once her term has been completed. Please remember, dear reader, Nunu NEVER waived her parental rights as Joshua’s birthmother. The goal of her son’s placement with the foster family has been from the beginning to reunite Mother and Son.
I know there is much to consider in this case. I know there are many questions to which I am unable to provide an answer. I am simply hoping to provide a deeper understanding of Nunu’s context, that you may be able to understand her actions with compassion, not hatred; empathy, not disdain.
The truth of the matter is this: Nunu Sung made a mistake. A mistake she quickly took responsibility for. A mistake she admitted from the very beginning. A mistake she is working to set right. For this reason, Nunu Sung deserves a second chance. Her actions over the past two years prove, without a shadow of a doubt, how much she loves her son, how dedicated she is to her son, how committed she is to her son,and how determined she is to gain custody of her son. Nunu’s consistent efforts and determined actions speak volumes above the voice she is denied.
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