At 7 a.m., when the Student Union is speckled with tired students, a sole Knightstop worker is behind a counter creating sushi that will feed up to a few hundred people.
Knightstop worker Htun Linn practices his passion of being a chef almost daily. But behind his charcoal-colored eyes lies a past that was not concerned with passion— just safety.
Linn, 41, was born in Yangon, Burma. He grew up experiencing the constraints of the military-
controlled government, but escaped the country at age 28.
“I ran to the next country, Thailand. Military agents came to my house. They searched my mom and my sisters and said they were looking for me. In my country, they don’t tell why,” he said.
After seeking refuge in Thailand, Linn moved to Malaysia for 10 years. After sending his family in Burma money, police searched his Malaysian home. Fearing the hovering reality of arrest, he escaped to Guam seeking political asylum. He was given one room for 18 months. Linn then relocated to Florida, where he eventually settled in Orlando to work for Advanced Fresh Concepts Corp. as an associate chef. He was placed at its UCF location, Knightstop, where he has been working for six years.
“I really love it here. Life is different here than in Burma. In Burma, students often work in farm flats after school,” Linn said.
His friend, Tunlln Shwe, who Linn met through Orlando’s Burmese community, escaped from Burma in 2006. Linn and Shwe both view Orlando as a place to build a new life away from the social constraints of their home country. Shwe said many people are poor in Burma because of the government.
Linn still preserves his Burmese identity through firm political-reformation support for his home country. He believes that escaping was a petition for change.
“We [refugees] are leaders,” he said. “We need to do a lot for our country. Not for me, not for my family, for the new generation.
Linn aspires to open his own restaurant one day to serve food that weaves together Southeast-Asian flavors and Indian spices.
He looks to 2015 as a pivotal year, because if democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi wins the presidency, Linn will be able to return home for the first time in more than a decade.