Hla talks growing up as a second-generation immigrant


Junior Justin Hla poses for a family photo with his father and brother.

Jasper Green, The Rubicon Editor

As a second generation Burmese immigrant, whose parents moved to the United States in the late 1990s, junior Justin Hla has grown up being a part of two distinct cultures. Over the years, Hla has watched his family’s sushi business, Sushi Avenue, grow from its founding in 2004 to operate in over 32 states and 600 retail locations nationwide. In 2011, Sushi Avenue opened the Masu Sushi and Robata restaurant in the Mall of America and downtown Minneapolis. And, in 2013, two locations of One Two Three Sushi opened at the IDS Center on the University of Minnesota Campus.

“My parents came here separately to the [United States]; my dad [went to] work in South Carolina with my uncle’s business Hissho Sushi and my mom and dad met while working there.” Hla said. “Then, my dad broke off to form a new sushi company and eventually run several successful sushi restaurants,”

Hla has taken charge of his own educational pursuits and his path in life because he cannot rely on his parents to help him. Both his mom and dad grew up in a different school system than that of the United States, and culturally, in Myanmar students do not often go on college searches.

I need to blaze a trail for my own future.

— Junior Justin Hla

“Schooling can be difficult because I have to rely on myself to learn the information. My parents don’t understand the schooling system here and the curriculum is a lot different from what they learned in high school. They don’t really know what to do in the search for colleges so it’s up to me to navigate that on my own… but I’m up to the challenge,” Hla said.

While observing other non-immigrant families, Hla notices how the parents raise their children differently from his and notes that this might be because of cultural differences.

“I have friends whose family dynamic is much different than my own: their parents have completed high school. Sometimes I think my family doesn’t seem as socially connected or nurturing compared to some of my classmates’ and I think that is because of cultural differences.”

After Burma gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, the internal conflict to control the country, according to CNN, has become the world’s longest running civil war, filled with human rights violations and decades of violence. Many refugees have fled the country since the conflict began.

“My family is more laid back about some things that my non-immigrant friends’ parents are, but with schooling my parents are often more harsh. [The other parents] want their kids to do as well as they can, and that’s okay, because they already have a stable history of family that they can rely on. But, my whole life I’ve been told that I need to get good grades, and I understand why: I need to blaze a trail for my own future,” Hla said.