For Utah's Burmese community, July is a perfect time to celebrate the new year.
On Saturday, several hundred refugees, family and friends celebrated the Thingyan New Year's festival in Salt Lake City with traditional foods, dancing and plenty of water.
"It's a fresh start," said Aung Oo of Salt Lake City, a refugee who works in housekeeping in Park City.
In Myanmar previously Burma the Thingyan New Year's Festival is a national holiday celebrated in April. Water symbolizes renewal washing away the worries of last year and starting anew. But in Salt Lake City, it's too cold so early in the year to have an outdoor festival with a lot of water. That's why four years ago the community decided to celebrate in July instead.
On Saturday, children danced around with squirt guns and jumped through inflatable pools of cool water. Adults danced in traditional costumes and cooked noodle dishes. Several from Burmese communities in other states, such as a Buddhist monk from Phoenix, arrived for the occasion.
The event has grown along with the number of Utah's Myanmar refugees. The tight-knit group now totals more than 2,000 in the Salt Lake area, according to various estimates.
Members of the community said Saturday that while adjusting to a new culture and language is tough, they aren't sure if they will ever return to Myanmar.
While they are hopeful that pro-Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi can be successful in her efforts to end the military's control and oppression in her country, they say there's a good chance that she may have limited success.
"I'd go back if there was a change of government," Oo said. "But I don't know if things will ever change."
Suu Kyi's father was assassinated after negotiating and securing Burma's independence from the British Empire in 1947. Suu Kyi grew up to be a strong proponent of democracy, forming the National League for Democracy that opposed the harsh military junta that seized control of the country. She eventually was placed under house arrest for 15 years, which ended in 2010.
In the past year, the country released hundreds of political prisoners and began allowing members of the democratic party to seek elected office.
Even with the reforms, Oo said he prefers to remain in the United States because his home country still has a long way to go in terms of reform. The country is moving toward democracy, he says, but hasn't achieved it.
And there's even debate over national identity. The military junta officially changed the country's name to Myanmar in 1989 after a crackdown on a pro-democracy effort. Because of this, many refugees in Utah say they prefer the name Burma, even though that name has baggage, too the country was known by that name during British colonial rule from 1885 to 1948.
"If someone asks, I come from Burma, not Myanmar," Oo said.
Kyaw Saw of Salt Lake City, who works as a translator for the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles, agrees. Saw settled in Salt Lake City three years ago after living in Florida and New York. He left Myanmar 14 years ago to escape the brutal military regime. While hopeful for what Suu Kyi is trying to accomplish, Saw says it's highly likely he may never go back to his home country.
"I would like to go back," he said. "But not as long as the military controls the government."