Thinking about My Identity: Reflections of a Young Chin Woman
08 July 2011: Firstly, I would like to admit that I don’t know much about Chin State although I am Chin. Raised in Rangoon (Yangon), the former capital city of Burma (Myanmar), I rather find myself as an urban Chin. To tell the truth, I don’t know the square meter of Chin state and its population, let alone its history. What I know is just the fact that I am Chin, which I am proud of.
“What is it like to be in Chin State?” This is the first question Megan and many other friends who have great concern about Chin State asked. As an urban Chin, I won’t be able to tell the essence of living as other Chin fellows who live their entire lives there. However, I can share with you how I see and feel about Chin State, based on my visits during summer holidays.
When we look into the world map, Chin State is just like a very tiny little cheese half eaten by mice. Still, it is one of the most important parts to make our beautiful map of Burma complete. With an artist’s eye, I see a map of our country as most beautiful and well-shaped compared to the maps of other countries. The reason why I say Chin State is one of the most important parts is because of its border shape. If we take off Chin State from Burma, then it would just look like an ‘impact’ map. Imagine what if we make the same thing to other states and divisions as well as Naypyidaw, the official seats of the new government. This has a very clear implication that no single state or division is more important than the others but they all are equally important in Burma.
Surrounded by ranges of hills and mountains, Chin State is very often addressed as Chin Hills. In summer, it takes us about two nights and three days to get to Hakha, the capital of Chin State from Rangoon via Mandalay. Unfortunately, foreigners are not allowed to visit the state, apart from a small area in the southern part near Mount Victoria, as it is designated as a restricted zone.
Unique and distinct in its richness of natural beauty and landscape, Chin State has got several attractive landmarks including nine-step waterfall, heart-shaped lake, caves, different kinds of orchids and wonderful creatures that we haven’t got a chance to show to the world.
The next question I was frequently asked is about job opportunities in Chin State.
Some young Chins with families that can run private businesses such as a teashop or clothes store can get busy helping as waiters, shopkeepers and sellers. Others, especially boys, would jump at the opportunity to grab any available jobs such as garage assistant for cars and motorbikes or highway assistant driver. With the arrival of an increasing number of vehicles in town, high school drop-outs would get their hands on these kinds of manual works.
I take pride in saying that Chin State has new talents among the youths in composing songs and music. But only a few can read musical notes. There are many gifted poets, poetess and writers as well. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to publish books or produce films and songs in our own language. Even if we get permission, it is still limited.
In Hakha, there are two colleges namely, the Government Technological College (GTC) and Chin Christian College (CCC). Students graduating from CCC, if they can afford or get scholarships, can continue their studies for Master of Divinity (M.Div) in Rangoon or abroad. Then, they would serve as a pastor in local Chin churches.
Those students with no religious background would join the English language learning programs in Rangoon such as IELTS and TOEFL in an attempt to further their studies abroad. The best job they can get locally is in NGOs or running own business, which is very rare. I don’t know much about the opportunity for students from GTC as it is new and there are no graduate students as yet.
Ordinary children in Chin villages are now inclined to think of going to Malaysia as their biggest dream. The education system is totally Burmanized, meaning all the textbooks and teachings have to be done in Burmese. Children are not allowed to learn Chin language in State schools. They have to learn it during summer holidays through the programs organized by churches.
Subsistence farming has been the main source of income for the Chin families for years and with the huge migration since the early 1990s come total dependence on support from family members or relatives living overseas. It is getting hard and even harder now for families in Chin State to make a living by running own business or from white collar jobs. Therefore, the people are in dire need of both physical and mental support and encouragement.
In my belief, only God cannot be blamed for our situation now. He has his own plan which none of us can imagine. I believe that I am created to be a Chin on purpose. I feel safe and happy to be a Chin Christian. As a Christian, we have a chance to participate in church activities and community matters, which are organized and led in democratic ways.
Most of my Buddhist friends haven’t got a chance like us. They don’t know the happiness and benefits of being a part of an organization. Through their involvement in the works of NGOs in Burma recently, they eventually realize how well Christian organizations are organized and effective for the community.
Although it is declared that there is freedom of religion in Burma, we haven’t still tasted it as permission to construct church buildings is restricted and so is singing out moderately loud in praises and worship.
In governmental departments, Christian Chins as well as other ethnic nationalities practicing different religions from Buddhism are marginalized and pushed aside from taking a leading role. In the military, they can only be promoted up to a major rank because of their religion and ethnicity.
The Burmans, who are the biggest ethnic people in Burma, are not bad by nature. Some of them are even more kind-hearted and better than that of my Chin friends. However, after years of this ‘burmanisation’ policy that the government has been implementing, we have been brainwashed unknowingly to think that the ethnic nationalities are lower class than the Burmans. Maybe for this reason, on the other hand, we, the ethnic groups, feel that we are even closer at heart.
Burma is rich in natural resources, tradition and culture. A charming mixture of its eight different ethnic nationalities, namely Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Burman, Mon, Rakhine Shan and Chin makes the country even more interesting. Each of these ethnic groups has their own culture, tradition and customs, which they are very proud of. Ethnic leaders work hard to protect and promote their cultural and traditional identity as the government’s systematic policy of ‘assimilation’ is seen as a threat.
Recently, Chinland is renamed the poorest State in the country, with no natural resources such as ruby, jade and other precious jewels. Clearly, if we can freely work to survive in our native land, we don’t need to flee to foreign countries. I strongly believe that the new generation of the Chin Diasporas, who flee their native places and get educated in foreign countries, will one day come back and lead us into a better future. They are the ‘treasured’ jewelry of Chinland.
I am a 21-year-old student living with my family in Rangoon. A 21-year-old in the developed western countries such as the UK and US can stand on her own feet and run her life by herself. However, I am still fully dependent on my parents financially, mentally and physically. Speaking of maturity, I do not even know how to cast a vote whereas the 21-year-old in the US would have stood and made her voices in politics. To the worse, I am in a situation where I do not know what to do and how to start even though I would like to see some changes in Chin State and my country.
We are oppressed, isolated and deprived, but we are still strong in our willingness to protect our own identity. We have our own talents as others have. We have our own unique culture and tradition that some other people don’t have. It’s just that we don’t get a chance to present, polish and use it. We may be poor but we are rich at heart and that’s why I am never ashamed of my Chinland, but proud of being Chin.
The author is a full-time final year student of arts in Rangoon. This article is dedicated to her foreign friends who have got great interest and always keeps asking never-ending questions about Chin State.