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Student Essay: Discovering Oneself in OthersNovember 25, 2021
“Why do you get offended for being called Sayar Chin? Aren't you Chin anyway?” My friend seemed sincere, yet the question was insensitively asked. This kind of encounter is not uncommon for me. He said, seriously, that it was not an intentionally discriminatory tone or an insult, but that he meant it instead as support or celebration of my identity.
As a Chin, whenever I mention my name, I have to repeat it at least twice or more. The most common immediate response is: what? What kind of a name is that! A fake surprised face always accompanies this comment and a wink, "I can't pronounce that!" people then exclaim. This is nonsense. I write my name in the Burmese alphabet. Anyone literate, even just the primary level, can read it. I am not even demanding the correct pronunciation of my name.
I asked my friend, "how would you feel if you were called Sayar Bamar or Bamar Sayar?" That question was his moment of enlightenment unexpectedly.
To get to this point of awakening, fortunately, he had an experience recently. He went to Rakhine for medical relief on duty, and he witnessed the local minority's impression of the Bamar. For the past social and political grievances, the local Arakanese are very critical of any Bamar. He said he even had to ask an Arakanese friend to buy groceries for him, as if the locals knew he was a Bamar, no one would sell to him. And he was called Sayar Bamar, or Bamar Sayarlay. He got to experience that feeling firsthand. He had a glimpse of how it felt to live in such a climate of discrimination.
Another occasion of racial rejection I encountered was harsher. I was compiling a recognition letter from a department of my alma mater, which was required for an application. The head of the department I was meeting just literally halted once I mentioned my name, reluctantly saying, "a taing-yin-tarr? [ethnic people]. She was actually about to write the recognition letter until she heard my name. Although I am a non-Burman, I have never encountered such a level of rejection, especially for my identity. Predisposing myself as a non-Burman, my accounts of encounters with such discriminations will be the least to other non-Burmans.
These two particular events pushed me to recognize the reality of discrimination in society and the need to reconcile ethnic groups with one another. I am not promoting the idea of racial divides as a political or social token to advance my agenda. I am aware that "demanding one eye for one eye will make the whole world blind." But I firmly believe it is essential to recognize the persecuted pain, resentments, and plights. Such moral obligations are needed to be carried out by all, both individually or collectively. If one had good faith and determination, these national healings could start with a single conversation and stories from our respective perspectives. These racial divides are intrinsically caused by the existing social and political systems, while the lack of social engagement or integration worsens the divides.
I present this point to have more engagements and integrations among social groups. I am not saying this would be a magic remedy for all the inequities, inequalities, and infirmities happening in the communities. But I firmly believe it can be a meaningful start to redeem from the damages and achieve a better society.
Essay on Discovering Self in Others is written by Singpi, a Parami modular student from Chin State, Myanmar. He attended the Parami Summer modular course, the Writing for Social Change, Dr. Frances O'Morchoe, a Faculty in Humanities at Parami Institute of Continuing Education of Parami University. Singpi earned his MBBS from the University of Medicine (2), Yangon, and read Post-Graduate Diploma in Political Science from Yangon University.
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