Before my interaction with the Burmese culture, I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Myanmar, since the majority of our students are recent immigrants to Canada. However, this past semester I have learned a great deal about this dynamic culture from a very special student of mine, a 22-year-old university graduate, who lives in Calgary with her husband and 2-year-old son as well as her extended family. Recently, she surprised me with a wedding gift- a beautiful Burmese traditional dress. After I tried it on for her, she immediately told me I have to wear it to Chin National Day.
For the past two weeks our class has been exhibiting PowerPoint presentations on their countries of origin. Ca Sung decided to do her presentation on Friday February 20, the day before the festival and the national day of the Chin people. (click here to download her presentation) This was a great idea because it informed the students about Myanmar particularly about the Chin people. We didn’t know much about Myanmar so everyone seemed very engaged in the presentation, especially when she showed us the map of Myanmar illustrating 153 different sub ethnic groups and languages! Unfortunately, this wonderful ethnic and religious diversity has been controlled by a military dictatorship for more than 50 years. The country has been immersed in ethnic strife and numerous ethnic groups have been involved in one of the world’s longest-running ongoing civil wars. The Burmese ethnic group is the most dominant group that is in conflict with all the other groups, such as the Chin group. Most of our students are Chin, consequently the ethnic strife between the two groups caused the Chin to emigrate to Canada.
After the wonderful presentation, I was excited to attend the festival the next day. I arrived on Saturday afternoon to the Marlborough Association Hall and was greeted with warm and friendly smiles. Everyone looked so beautiful, people dressed in diverse traditional clothing, ready to perform. The performances included energetic bamboo dances, songs, etc. Some of our talented students played the drums, sang traditional and modern Burmese music, and others performed traditional folk dances. The evening ended with a modern rock concert that everyone participated in.
At some point, Calgary Mayor Neheed Nenshi, a.k.a. the world’s best mayor, showed his support by saying a few kind words about diversity and the vibrant Burmese culture growing in Calgary.