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Issue 1

Our Voices Publication of the Kachin-American Ramma

2014


Our Voices

Publication of the Kachin-American Ramma Issue 1

2014

Editor-in-Chief Jap Ja Ngai Awng

Design Editor Jap Bu Ra Lu

Cover Art Galau Sau Ying

Our Voices is an annual publication of the Kachin-American Ramma. It seeks to promote education and foster a literary culture among young Kachins by exploring our Kachin-American identity. This issue is funded by the Kachin Alliance.


Copyright Š 2014 Our Voices. All rights reserved. Reproduction of the texts and images in this publication, in whole or in part, without expressed permission of Our Voices or the original authors or artists is prohibited.

Please note that the expressed opinions are those of the original authors and are not those of Our Voices.


Table of Contents Editor’s Letter Jap Ja Ngai Awng

1

I Keep Forgetting, but It’s Always There Dingra Hpung Ale Lung

6

An Unbreakable Dream Layang Seng Mun

10

Curse of the Jade Flower Zahkung Doi Awng

16

Life of a Kachin Professional MMA Fighter NSang Awng La

20

My Marine Corps Experience Myitung La Ja

24

Kachins’ Lone Star State N'hpang Lu Mai

28

A Living Tradition Sana Ja Seng Aung

33

The Stone Dragon Mashaw Ja Htoi

37

Destination Myitkyina Jap Bu Ra Lu

42

College & University Students


Editor’s Letter Two decades ago no more than a few Kachins lived in America, but today hundreds, if not a few thousands, of us are here. Unlike most Kachins in the diaspora, we, the Kachins in America, are here to settle. We are here to make America our home. And we are here to chase after the American Dream. We, therefore, are faced with a unique and challenging task of being faithful to our Kachin heritage while claiming American identity for ourselves. I fear that many Kachins today are settling for remaining in the margins of the American society. America is offering us possibilities beyond menial positions at factories and local Wal-Marts. Yes, it is offering us life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Right now, many of us may feel that we are at the very bottom, but we don't have to settle for that. We can most certainly work our way up. But first, we need to see ourselves as Americans in order to have the confidence to claim ownership of all that America has to offer. The Kachin-American Ramma is a group of Kachin students and alumni who are dedicated to fostering education among Kachin youths in America. We believe that education is the key to upward social mobility. In order to ensure that every Kachin child grows up to receive a college degree, we need to actively encourage education as a a community. We ought to have open dialogues about education, share information about schools and application processes, initiate community facilitated mentorship among students, and much more. This movement toward higher education needs to be a communal effort, because together as a community, we can overcome anything.


The Kachin-American Ramma is launching this publication, Our Voices, with intent to initiate and provide a springboard for conversations about education through exploring our identity, our dreams, our culture, our past, and our future. To the younger Kachins, who were blessed with the opportunity to grow up in American education system, we want to say, take advantage of everything and become an educated Kachin-American. To those who came to America as young adults, we want to say, keep going. In this issue, you will read stories about about hardship and transitions concerning language, culture, and identity. You will also read about perseverance, resilience, and love for the Kachin people. In sharing our voices, we hope you will realize that you are not alone on this journey. We also hope that we can create a sense of solidarity and strengthen each other on our journey forward. One day, several hundred Kachin-American children will grow up and go to American universities. Some of them will go on to law schools and some to graduate programs. Some of them will become Supreme Court justices, some academics, and some programmers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Some will become successful artists and journalists. Perhaps, some will even play in the NFL and the NHL. A handful of them will be voted into the Congress. And what if one day, the United States of American elects a Kachin-American to the oval office? Here, I leave you with the words of Theodore Herzl, the father of political Zionism, “If you will it, it is no dream.�

Jap Ja Ngai Awng Editor-in-Chief


I Keep Forgetting, d

but it's always there

Dingra Hpung Ale Lung

The first thing that we must acknowledge when sharing our experience with fellow Kachins is the difference between the large and small U.S. Kachin communities. By large, I mean the communities geographically concentrated usually in one city and consisting of many, many members. The small communities consist of far fewer families scattered across a state without a single centralized city, and much effort is required to congregate for occasions. This simple difference lends itself to a drastic variance in the Kachin-American experience among the large and small communities. I share my experience from growing up in America as part of a small Kachin community. Having left Myitkyina at age 6, I

came to live in Charlottesville, VA, and my family was the only Kachin family in central Virginia. Except for a few other Kachin families living at least two hours away, we were very much isolated. In second grade, I had only immigrant Asian friends since I was uncomfortable with the American kids. When I moved to a different school, suddenly I was in the midst of all Caucasian Americans, and so I knew I had to become friends with them. They actually took the initiative to befriend me, and I came to see that they were very friendly. Soon, I was participating in almost everything they were doing as kids including birthday parties, sleep overs, church retreats, and more. My regular day had quickly adapted to a typical 1


American lifestyle except for a few things at home like food, parents, and maybe chores. In our house, my brother and I spoke Jinghpaw to our parents and elders but English to each other. The little Burmese I knew was completely replaced by

different culture. So instead of judging the people of this land by the standards of another land, I came to see my American friends as just friends. I also realized that I was just as American as they were in almost everything, and that I had to stop

"I was constantly reminded by parents and elders that we kids were not "American." I was told what I wasn’t, not what I was."

English. By third grade, even my thoughts and dreams were in English. And why should that not have been the case? I had merely absorbed the culture that I was exposed to every day. As a child, I personally had no problem with adapting to this new culture. There was nothing to debate or ponder over. I just rode along with the world as I knew it. Burma had become almost like a dream. Immigrant families usually have a great difficulty transitioning into a new society’s way of life. It took my family several years to overcome our ethnocentric way of thinking and to see Americans as just people of a 2

denying myself of that fact. I was constantly reminded by parents and elders that we kids were not “American.” I was told what I wasn’t, not what I was. One would think that stripping us of what we aren’t would reveal what we are, but I’ve not found it to be so. Still, I am proud of our Kachin community for striving to preserve our tradition through organizing nawku zuphpawngs, family camps, and other activities. We were able to live as Americans while remembering where we came from. When I see the children who were either born or raised here most of their life, I am not sure what is fair to


ask of them. On the one hand, culture is a blessing from God, which should be celebrated. On the other hand, it is unrealistic to tell them to be more Kachin and speak more Jinghpaw

they’re given is reason to resent. When people tell me to marry a Kachin, they always have the same serious face on like it’s the most important thing in life, and my failure

"Most of all, I don’t want to see children being taught that any deviation from the Kachin way is displeasing to God like some yubak kaba." while they grow up in a very small Kachin community where they can’t interact with other Kachins frequently. What I hate seeing are children being scolded for not performing htawng ka properly when they were never even taught how to. I hate seeing children being told they should marry only Kachins instead of being taught to first ask God if marriage is even in His plan for them. Most of all, I don’t want to see children being taught that any deviation from the Kachin way is displeasing to God like some yubak kaba. I strongly believe that a better way to imbue in them an appreciation for the Kachin culture lies not in demanding but leading with examples. It is far better to lead the children to love the good things worth admiring. Otherwise, all

to do so would mark my life with shame and pain. This makes me more sad than bitter. Instead of a legacy of embittered and apathetic children, we need to secure a grateful and compassionate generation. One thing I am convinced of is that when it comes to the Word of God, nothing should stand in the way of letting it be heard by the people. I’ve witnessed kids who listened to a Kachin pastor preaching the gospel in mostly English, and it was as if they were hearing the gospel for the first time. If faith comes from hearing, then I think that the hearing part should happen in a language that is understood. The Word of God does not go hand in hand with culture. Just because people have grown accustomed to how a church looks, sounds, and feels like, they 3


think that's the way the church is supposed to be. No one seems to be bothered that what the Bible says about what a church should be like is really different (or just absent) from the average modern church. I’m not saying it’s every church, and I’m not encouraging a rebellion. When I let go of the bias of the American and Kachin style church, I began to see the church of the Bible, a church that had its own culture different from anything else in the world. It was

God about culture. In all my years living as a KachinAmerican, I had never heard the term “Kachin-American” until this past year. I have come to attribute this unfamiliarity largely to growing up in my particular Kachin community. Living in an isolated Kachin community means that we are not consistently updated with everything that goes on in the Kachin state including cultural, political, and national activities. In such a setting,

"Many good willed people use God to bless their traditions and social prosperity but neglect seeking and carrying out God's will." what happened when Christ broke down all barriers and made within Himself a new humanity out of different peoples. Just like in Jesus' ministry, there will always be those hanging on to traditions at the expense of knowing Him and becoming part of this new humanity. Many good willed people use God to bless their traditions and social prosperity, but neglect seeking and carrying out God’s will. From my whole experience, this is the biggest cautionary lesson I’ve learned from 4

this infrequent exposure to Kachin affairs does not lead to a flourishing Kachin culture in either practice or knowledge. I suppose this is why many of the Kachin events around here are heavily focused on organizing events where the younger generation could learn Kachin history, culture, and literature. The present idea seems to be that the kids now have to be taught, rather than being reminded, that they are Kachin. This, I think, is the starting


point for the Kachin children in America, especially the ones born here. I have come to see how beautiful the Kachin culture is when the elders speak of it. To me, as one who is Kachin and remembers growing up in the Kachin state, I love hearing about it, and I cherish it because I can relate to them even if it’s a little. It saddens me to think that all of this would die if we don’t treasure it and preserve it. At this point in my life, I consider the U.S. to be my home because most of my life experience has been made here. Still, I long to be back at the place where I came alive, where I learned to see the sunset sky, taste the air, and walk the earth on my own feet, there in the fields of Myitkyina. I have had a goal since my childhood that I would someday go back to Burma to help in any way that I can with what I have gained in America. I have not figured out exactly what it means to be a Kachin-

American, but I know this for certain: I will not go back to Burma as an American but as one who has come back home.

Dingra Hpung Ale Lung graduated from the George Washington University in 2014. He received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Aerospace. 5


An Unbreakable Dream j

Layang Seng Mun

August, 2007 “Hey, Seng Mun you’ve got a call from your mom!” Somebody shouted from the main building where the school office was located. I was a student at the English Language and Computer Science Institute in Mai Ja Yang, which is a small town controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization. It was about 6 P.M in the evening when I received a call from my mom. She was already in Malaysia at the time. She asked me whether or not I would like to come and join her. I was in the middle of studying and was very confused by her question. However, her question was not the kind that I could just hold off until I was done studying. 6

I was not able to sleep that night, because I could not stop myself from wondering what my future would be if I were to go to Malaysia. My main concern was my education. There were so many thoughts in my head. It was the longest night of my life. The next day after class, I asked for permission to go out and made a call to my grandmother. I explained the situation to her and asked for advice. My grandmother said I should join Mom in Malaysia. Then, my journey began. I took a train from Myitkyina to Mandalay. Then I took a bus from Mandalay to Yangon. From Yangon, I flew to Kawthaung, a town close to the Thai border. At the Kawthaung airport, I was investigated by the immigration officers. My heart pounded rapidly and I sweated


a lot too. Since the process of obtaining a passport was very difficult and expensive, there were thousands of people trying to cross the border illegally in order to work in the neighboring countries. Kawthaung is one of the gates through which people can cross the border. That is the reason why

situation like that. Before I came to Malaysia, I lived in a community where most families encouraged their kids to get some forms of higher education. In such an environment, I had friends with whom I could discuss things and study together. Living in Malaysia

"Every time I think about giving up, I think of my family, our motherland and our people, and I press on." immigration officers were so strict in this town. The officer said to me that it is strange to see a Kachin, who normally lives in the northernmost part of Myanmar, comes to this town. Then, he threatened me to tell him the reason why I was there. After a few conversations, he let me pass. I arrived in Malaysia. There I lived in an insecure environment for the first time in my life. Even though I was recognized as a refugee from Myanmar, my legal residency was not valid in the Malaysian immigration law. Since policemen checked every foreigner, my mother always reminded me not to go out too many times. There were nights when we had to sleep in the forest in order to avoid surprise checks from immigration officers. I heard that some refugees were dragged into jail where they were locked up for several months. Luckily, I never had to face a

was totally different from that way of life. It was my first experience seeing the outside world. I found out that other people were living completely different lives from my own. The very first job I got in Malaysia was at a glove factory. I worked from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Most of my coworkers were poorly educated Burmese. In the beginning, I felt very uncomfortable working with them. Since most families in Malaysia were struggling to make ends meet, they thought sending their kids to schools was a way of wasting money. They said they knew many people who were college graduates and got paid low salaries regardless of their degrees. They were right, and so, I could not argue back. For the first six or seven months of staying in Malaysia, I was very lonely and felt depressed several times. I thought it was the end of my life. My dream of becoming an engineer faded away. 7


At that time, getting back into school seemed impossible. I was struggling for survival just like the others. However, my life got a little bit better after I bought my first cell phone. It was just a simple cell phone but had a radio feature. I started listening to the radio whenever I was alone. I found out that Malaysia had several good English radio channels. They aired hot songs from Billboard, impressive talk shows and interviews with famous people. It was very fun listening to people speaking English. When I was in Burma, the only way I could learn English was through books. That's why listening and speaking were my weakest skills. I did not know whether or not I would be able to go back school, but I decided to continue learning English on my own. I thought rather than doing nothing, learning something would lessen my frustrations.

At the airport, I met two girls who became my inspirations. Because it was summer time, they did not have school and visited me often. They brought books to me and we went out together several times. They were also the first people I conversed with in English. Fortunately, they understood everything I said which helped me gain some confidence. I was a shy person and not very sure of my English at the time. That summer went by very quickly and schools began to open. I decided to stay a year in high school to learn in an American school system and to further polish my English. The first day of school went terribly. I was lost during class hours. Some teachers spoke too fast. Some of my classmates teased me because of my accent. After a few weeks though I

Then, I met with a Burmese man who used to work in Israel and was deported back to Thailand. He was a bookworm, and he owned many good books written in English. I borrowed some books, and started reading on my own. In the summer of 2010, I arrived in Washington State. 8

Me partcipating in a regional high school engineering contest, 2011


began to settle down and did better. Still, going to college seemed really far off for me. It was very hard in the beginning. Since I was in a small town, I did not have a chance to meet with other college students from Myanmar. I did not know where to start and how to get into college. Because I came here as a refugee, the process of getting into college was different for me compared to normal students. I did many searches on the internet for engineering schools and I found out about Purdue University in Indiana. I kept on searching but decided to start with a two years college and then transfer to Purdue.

March, 2014 Even today, it is still very challenging for me. Going to school and working full time makes me exhausted. The reason I do not give up on my dream is because I believe that education is the basic foundation of everything. I am very blessed to have come here and get a chance to go to school. Every time I think about giving up, I think of my family, our motherland and our people, and I press on.

Layang Seng Mun is currently a freshman at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. She is working toward an A.A.S. in Building Construction Management. 9


Curse

of the

Jade Flower kkkk

ddd

Jim, John, Rachel and the rector of our school were all left absolutely speechless and at a loss for words, their eyes rolling and mouths wide open as one of the seniors delivered a fine thanksgiving speech to the American teachers. Two months ago, most of us wouldn't even utter a word in class, afraid of making silly mistakes in front of the foreigners. The two months that they had spent with us seemed to have paid off as students demonstrated their language skills at the farewell party. In fact, we learnt all the dirty words from one of the teachers, who thought it was important for us since no one would ever teach these to us. The other teacher taught us verb tenses and their correct usages. And the third one did a photo exhibition project with the seniors. Yes, I'm very grateful to the teacher who taught us the dirty words-- it saved me plenty of time after my arrival here in America. Hehe. 10

Zahkung Doi Awng I saw her watching me through her big round eyes as I slowly articulated words of thanks on behalf of the freshman class. As I sat down on the seat in front of her, she leaned towards me, and with much admiration and wearing a cheerful smile, she said I did a wonderful job. I smiled back and said thank you and that she looked very good in her yellowish flowery dress. But that was many years ago. Now I ponder over what she said to me and wonder what exactly was going through her mind. Maybe she was inspired and encouraged by us, and perhaps, she even fantasized about receiving a good education for herself one day.

Flower was a sixteen-year-old eighth grader– a young, pretty girl with a vibrant personality. Just a year younger than me, she lived with


her widowed mother and her young twin brothers in a small house just next to St. Patrick’s Catholic Seminary. St. Patrick’s Catholic Seminary is situated by the Mali Hka riverbank not very far from Bala Min Htin Bridge, which connects Myitkyina and Wai-Maw. The two-year program at this Shatapru seminary mainly focuses on improving students' command of English before pursuing philosophy studies in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Division. The seminary is supported by local faithfuls and the hard work of the seminarians. Besides learning English, there are rules and regulations students have to abide by and responsibilities they have to bear. With two

by them for about two whole months until they had grown into the size of an adult male's fist. This obviously deprived us of sleep to a great extent and thus, we were the only three seminarians exempt from attending morning mass for the whole year. We would get up just before breakfast. This was also the beginning of the end of my life as a seminarian. I gradually lost my priestly vocation for no reason.

Some first year students in front of the main dormitory

other students, I was assigned to be in charge of the chicken coop. We raised three batches of 400, 300, and 600 chickens in two separate buildings. Small chicks were ordered from Mandalay, the second capital of Burma then, via the airplane. We fed them, gave them water and medications, and slept

We were bored from tending chickens. And so, with the new freedom we had been given, we would sneak out at night to go to Kachinstyle bars in the vicinity. There were many restaurant bars in Shatapru where one could order and enjoy beef, chicken, pork, and fish barbecue along with other delicious dishes while sipping rice wine, beer, liquor and the famous Kachin traditional drink 11


tsa-pyi. We would spend the night away drinking and trying to forget about the problems in our lives, financial dilemmas at home and our bleak futures. We would secretly make appointments with female friends to meet them either at the bars or at their houses. In those days, we drank, cracked jokes and laughed out loud along with the nocturnal birds of our land. jf

For breakfast, the Kachins of Burma have either a bowl of noodles, fried rice with a cup of tea, or go to an Indian teahouse for their sweet tea and snacks such as samosas, parathas, and other wheat-based snacks. But that particular morning I was craving for Indian curries as if I were an expecting woman. So after mass on that sunny Sunday, I decided to eat at a nearby Indian restaurant. I gently parked my motorbike in the crowded parking lot right in front of the restaurant. The streets were packed with a few old cars, many Chinesemade motorbikes, bicycles and trishaws. It was a town filled with people of diverse racial and economic backgrounds: Kachins, Bamars, Shans, Chinese, Indians and migrants from other parts of Burma. Most people here spoke Kachin and Burmese, but you would also hear 12

other languages being spoken from time to time. Most were bilingual and some managed to learn to speak more than three, which made me extremely jealous. So, there I was, devouring this delicious beef curry, vermicelli and yellow peas soup, and the fresh vegetable salad with hot spicy sauce like a hungry orphan who had not seen a good meal in weeks. Suddenly, two slender girls with pretty faces walked in giggling and laughing. The sound of their laughter was mixed with the lively Indian music being played in the restaurant. I turned my head towards the girls as they sat down at a table across me and started placing their orders. The voice sounded familiar. I took a second look, and there she was, my Flower. The very girl I hung out with for over a year while in the seminary. First, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and told myself I might be getting the wrong person. The very thick and red lipstick, see-through blouses, short skirts and high heels that she and her friend were wearing–-it all pointed to one thing. Prostitutes. We greeted each other with a great surprise. It had been three long years since I last heard her


laughing at my silly jokes. It was a bit awkward, but I gradually asked her how she was doing and a few other trivial questions. We continued chitchatting while her friend sat there nonchalantly. Flower slowly bit her lips and complained that she had been working so hard to support her twin brothers but that they were so useless, always skipping classes and not at all interested in their studies.

All I could recall about this poor woman was that she worked like a horse, travelling between Shatapru and the gold mines, selling stuff to support the family left by her deceased husband. Yes, she died from hard work, stress and malaria a few months after I kissed goodbye to my beloved seminary. With no one to turn to for help, the young Flower embraced her bitter fate to support her two little brothers and herself.

"I thank Karai Wa for the opportunity I have been given and keep my fingers crossed for the friends I have lost, for the friends who have given up the fight due to various reasons." Having noticed that I had been listening to her wholeheartedly, she continued ranting and raving about how terrible men were to the fair sex, and how they treated them like dirt and the like. She was very serious so I was a bit scared to disagree and just nodded my head like a chameleon. "But hey, not all men are the same," I rebutted in my mind. A few days after this unexpected encounter, my best friend told me about Flower. Apparently, Flower’s mom used to be a reseller of groceries at the gold mines a few miles above the May Hka-Mali Hka confluence.

But hey, do not blame her close relatives and the society there–- the majority of the population has been eking out a living, facing similar social and economic issues. Flower left school before even finishing the ninth grade. My heart began to ache as I started realizing what had happened to her family. First, I blamed God, then myself and the society for not being able to prevent the weak from these desperate situations. The lives of Flower and her family members haunt me to this day. It is very discouraging to think about them, as 13


I was not able to do anything to help ease their pain. The corrupt officers, twisted rules and regulations, mismanagement of the economy and the violent repression on the population by the military junta have driven the once-prosperous nation into a chasm of poverty. I thank Karai Wa for the opportunity I have been given and keep my fingers crossed for the friends I have lost, for the friends who have given up the fight due to various reasons. From my unexpected encounter with Flower, I have learned a very important lesson –- never ever judge others because everything happens for a reason.

And I find myself quietly reciting a short prayer by St. Francis: Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Fr. Dashi Naw Lawn, the rector of St. Patrick's Seminary seated in the middle front row, two Japanese visitors, and Fr. Donald with the seminarians. 14


And my other favorite prayer: I humbly ask you Karai Wa to give me coffee for the things I can change and rice wine to accept the things I can't. Amen.

Zahkung Doi Awng graduated from LeMoyne College in 2010. He received a B.S. in Business Management and Leadership. 15


Life of a Kachin Professional

MMA Fighter

By NSang Awng La ...

I was born to NSang Tu Awng and Shadang Nang Bu in a small rural neighborhood called Du Kahtawng in Myitkyina. My Awa was a businessman in the jade trade and provided for our family, and my Anu was a stay-at-home mom. In this small Jinghpaw neighborhood, I grew up speaking only Kachin. And I was comfortable in my simple Kachin village life. As a little preschooler, I once cried uncontrollably because I was frightened to death by my fashionable teacher who had dyed her hair red. Surprisingly enough, twenty some years later, this same 16

timid boy would enter a locked iron cage to fight a muscular 6’2� black man in front of thousands of cheering American fans. Well, my life is not so simple now, but there was a time when it was simple. In my family, I am the fourth child and the third son, hence my name Awng La. I grew up in a home where my Awa was regularly on business trips to Hpakant, the jade land of Burma, and I was left under the loving care of my Anu. I grew up playing, eating and living under the same roof with my extended family of over a dozen cousins. Every morning, I would wake up to a sticky rice


vender walking down the street yelling, “Kaut Nyin Poune!� My siblings and I would run down with five kayts in our hand to get our breakfast. These were my fondest but very short-lived memories.

of school, who were predominantly Burmese speakers. To make the matter worse, I did not exactly fit in with the Kachin community. Most Kachins are Baptist, and there is a big Catholic Kachin community. But only a handful of Kachin families are Seventh-Day Adventist. And in general, each of the religious communities in the Kachin society tend to socialize and have events almost exclusively within their religious community. My Anu

At the age of seven, my family decided to leave Myitkyina and move to Yangon so that my Awa could provide a better education to his children. From then on I had to really learn to adapt to my environment. Once in Yangon, my siblings and I began attending the "Sadly, in this socially disintegrated International School of Yangon (ISY). I was Kachin community, I grew up feeling like never that good in an outsider, even though I was thoroughly school, but looking back, Kachin in every sense" it made sense why I was that way. I had to learn English at happened to be a Seventh-Day school, I spoke Kachin at home, and I Adventist, which means I was had to speak Burmese everywhere else brought up in a Seventh-Day in Yangon. This of course was a recipe Adventist church, and being part of for disaster. My trilingual upbringing a Seventh-Day Adventist church caused some serious confusions and became a major part of my identity language barrier, and resulted in a and social life. Sadly, in this socially poor academic performance. As my disintegrated Kachin community, I grade fell in class, I began to stop grew up feeling like an outsider, enjoying school. I did not do well in even though I was thoroughly school until my high school years Kachin in every sense. when I became fluent in English. After High School, the summer Socially, I did not fit in with my of my 18th birthday, I moved to the schoolmates, who were predominantly United States. When I first moved foreigners, and I had trouble to the US, I did not experience a communicating with people outside serious culture shock like most 17


international students did. Because of my unique upbringing that required me to adapt to the majority culture, I had become pretty good at coping with cultural differences. I liked the food that Americans ate, I enjoyed playing their sports, and I was able to submerge myself in their culture. I think this submersion in the American culture was, to an extent, the direct result of my lack of connection with a Kachin Community in America and feeling at home with my local Seventh-Day Adventist community in Michigan. I received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Andrews University, a Seventh-Day Adventist institution in Michigan. I hoped that one day I would be able to go back to the Kachin land and help our people with my degree. My love for agriculture started when I visited my grandparent’s farm in Myitkyina at age six. Since then I have always had a desire to raise livestock and own a big farm. I knew that the methods of agriculture in the US are more advanced than that in the Kachin State. I decided to study Agriculture because I wanted to bring back the skills and knowledge back to our home. During my college years, I started 18

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and fell in love with it instantaneously. I started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and subsequently MMA during my sophomore year in college. I knew that my parents would be against this hobby had they known that I would want to become a professional fighter. Knowing this, I did not let my parents know about my intention to become a professional fighter until I graduated with a degree. I think if you know what you want to do, even if you are the only Asian guy in a gym full of Caucasians, African Americans and Hispanic guys, you should pursue your dream anyway. During those early years I kept telling myself, “Don’t doubt yourself. Work hard towards your goal no matter how how unconventional it is. Success will come to you, and when it does, those who didn’t support you initially will change their opinion.” And they did! Now I have been training in MMA for 10 years. I have also been competing at one of the highest levels of the sport. This sport has a lot of highs and lows, but through my victories and defeats, I have learned three important life lessons. These lessons come from the wisdoms of my coaches, professional sport


psychologists and many great books.

disability.

Firstly, talent is overrated. Not everyone is born talented, but if you work hard enough, you can achieve greatness. I have seen many talented people who are surpassed by people of ordinary abilities due to laziness.This is why the hard working turtle beats the lazy rabbit in the race. Laziness is indeed the worst

Secondly, if you want to be a professional in something, you have to simplify your life and make your goals the center of your life—that is after God, of course. If you want to be a professional, you have to get rid of distractions, especially those that are incongruent with your goals, even if it means losing friends or fun times. Finally, what I have learned from my travel all over the world is that people are just people. No matter where you are, from the villages of Myitkyina to the cornfields of Indiana, people are just people. We all have our issues, we all love our families, and so it’s important that we are forgiving and accepting of others that aren’t like us. The more tolerant we are of people who are not like us, the better place this world will be. It has been a pleasure sharing a bit about my journey.

"I hope each and everyone of you will find a passion, an interest, or a hobby in which you can start investing for a great future." NSang Awng La graduated from Andrews University in 2007. He received a B.S. in Agriculture. 19


Experience

my marine corps Myitung La Ja

As a kid I loved listening to older Kachins talk about the Kachin glory days during the World Wars. They spoke of how incredibly brave and tough the Kachin soldiers were. Through these stories, I came to admire the bravery of our Kachin forefathers. As I got older, I came to realize that through their bravery, our Kachin ancestors were able to put Kachins in the pages of world history. I thought I could never be like them, but I still wanted to get a glimpse of what it would be like to be in their shoes. Soon after graduating from high school, in 2005, I joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve. When I joined the U.S. Marine Corps, it was an unknown and 20

unexplored territory for Kachins. I turned out to be one of the very first Kachins to enlist in it. Hence, when I was going through the enlistment process, there weren’t any close relatives that I could turn to for advice. My parents also could not provide any good tips on the enlistment process or what to expect in the Marine Corps. They have their own struggles and I felt that I have no rights to bother them for my personal adventure. So, I knew that I was going to be alone on this journey. I have heard rumors and horror stories about recruiters manipulating enlistees, which led them (the enlistees) to lose benefits that they are entitled to. I was terrified that I would become one of those


manipulated enlistees but decided to leave it all up to God. With His grace, my enlistment process went without any hiccups.

ended up with a pair of left boots. I spent the first night on Parris Island thinking, “Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?�

December 28th, 2006 was my first day on Parris Island, which is famous for breaking men and molding them into U.S. Marines for over two hundred years. That first day of training was filled with both chaos and confusion. Once the Company Commander unleashed his drill instructors, the training became like a living hell. Drill instructors screamed, kicked, and threw all our belongings on the floor. Then, they gave us a few seconds to make a mountain of clothing disappear. I

I soon discovered that I was the only Asian in my training platoon. My name stood out to drill instructors like a sore thumb in their roster. They had a hard time pronouncing my Kachin name. I did not dare to correct the drill instructors or lecture them on the origin of my name in fear of harsh repercussions. Of course, they gave me all sorts of nicknames and pronounced my name as suitably as they could. Because of the uniqueness of my name, the drill instructors learned it very quickly, which actually was not good news. When drill instructors specifically learned your name out of 70 recruits, it usually meant your chance of getting picked for extra Marine Combat Training Battalion (MCT) during weapons training at duties, such as Camp Geiger, Jacksonville, NC. 21


fire watch and quarterdecks, greatly increased. I didn’t take it personally though. They were just trying to mold me into a U.S Marine. After all, it was a Marine Corps boot camp. It was never meant to be easy.

even the most prepared person. In the military, you follow orders, wear matching uniforms, respect the rank structure, and abide by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). To top it all, military culture is

"There were many instances when I felt like I was pushing my limit ... But, I wasn't going to quit. I felt that if I quit, I would be bringing shame to our Kachin military legacy." There were many instances when I felt like I was pushing my limit. I knew that I could quit any time and go back home for hot meals and warm showers. I also knew that no one would have to find out about my failed attempt. But I wasn’t going to quit. I felt that if I quit, I would be bringing shame to our Kachin military legacy. And I probably would live with the guilt for the rest of my life. What pushed me through hardships was my fear of breaking with the past and letting down those before me. In 2006, I successfully completed my training. The hardest part of boot camp was not the physical hardship, it was adapting to the military culture. The sudden and abrupt change from a civilian to a military life will surprise 22

aggressive in nature. Being a civilian has an entirely different meaning. You enjoy freedom and individuality. You get to follow different sets of rules. When I am engaged in my civilian community service or at work, you would never expect to see me jumping on top of a table and start beating my chest while screaming off the top of my lungs in a foul language as a motivational tool. From a civilian point of view, this sort of behavior is unacceptable. But I am a marine 24/7. While dealing with parents, friends, teachers, and co-workers, I always have to remind myself and accept the fact that they are not part of the military. That fact was made more apparent to me when I became a Marine reserve. As a Marine reserve I lived a normal


civilian life as a student and only put on the uniform once a month for my weekend reserve duties. Once I wore the uniform, I had to put on a game face. Having gone back and forth between my military and civilian role for six years, I think I have mastered the art of switching roles in an instant. During the six years of my service in Marine Corps, I came across many people of various nationalities, with different skill sets, and from all economic backgrounds, all joining as one unit to serve and protect the United States of America. It was an intense experience. But, I cherish every moments of being a US Marine. Through this experience, I have learned to appreciate men and women who serve and protect our liberty.

Myitung La Ja graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in 2010. He received a B.S. in Environmental Science. 23


"Everything is indeed better, bigger, and brighter in Texas."

Kachins' Lone Star State

Texas is the second largest and second

N'hpang Lu Mai

most populous state in the United States of America. It is also known as the Lone Star State, signifying its former status as an independent republic and in commemoration of the struggles Texans faced to attain independence from Mexico. The “Lone Star� can be found on the state flag, state seal and the state commemorative quarter. It is also recognized as the official state gemstone cut of Texas. Texas declared independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. However, it was not until December 29, 1845 that it joined the United States as the 28th state.1 Texas is the only state that was an independent before joining the union. In the midst of the rich history of Texas, Texan-Kachins are making their own history. Texas is home to one of the largest Kachin communities in the U.S. Although Kachins are settled in various cities in Texas, the majority reside in the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) area. The Kachins have been here in Texas for almost two decades now. In the earlier days, the Kachin community in Texas

24


consisted of two populations: the overwhelming majority who arrived from Guam and a few who came directly from our home country with the Diversity Visa (DV). In the first half of the 2000s, Kachins from the refugee camps in Thailand started to settle around DFW area. In addition, the DV continues to bring Kachin immigrants to Texas. However, one of the main reasons for the continuous growth of Kachin

lower than other places in America. Since food, rent, health care costs, as well as gas and utilities are cheaper than the rest of the country, people do not need much to have a quality life. Furthermore, as Texas is the second largest state behind Alaska in the United States, Texas is very rich in land. The immensity of land in Texas makes real estate much cheaper than the rest of the country.3 Many Kachins here already own houses in

The 54th commemoration of the Kachin Revolutionary Day, DFW population in Texas is the immigration from Malaysia from the late 2000s to present. One of Texas’s main pulls for Kachins is the good quality life. Living costs in Texas are much lower compared to other states. In addition, Texas has no personal or corporate income tax.2 Although the property tax can be higher, in general property prices in Texas are much

a short period of times after moving to Texas. The prospect of economic security also attracted Kachins to Texas. Compared to the rest of country, it is much easier to find a job in Texas because it has a healthier economy. Texas’s unemployment rate is lower than the rest of the country, which means that it is unlikely for a Kachin to be without a 25


job as long as they are not fussy.4 In addition, Texas has lighter business regulations than many other states, which makes it less costly to start up and run a business in Texas.5 Because of this advantage, some Kachins are even able to establish their own professional businesses. Many Kachins in Texas work in sushi business while some work in restaurants as high chefs. Furthermore, there are many who work in factories as assembly workers and supervisors. A few work in refugee service centers as social workers, and they are extremely helpful to the newcomers. Texan-Kachins would sometimes claim that they feel as if they were back in their home country. They generally posit that feeling to Texan traditions, which seem similar to theirs. For example, Texan traditional cuisine beef barbeque is very similar to Kachins’ favorite shanju. Kachins are well known for celebrating many special occasions with shanju. Although it can be extremely difficult to gather together because of the work schedules, the Kachins in Texas tend to gather to celebrate the Kachin Revolutionary Day on February 5th. And shanju is almost always there. One interesting fact is that although they have 26

different meanings, Texas’s longhorn logo is in fact very similar to the longhorn Kachins used to have in the traditional Jinghpaw nta. Moreover, as Texas has a big Kachin population, many feel that they are indeed at home. The number of Texan-Kachin students is on the rise. Before now, not many of the youths were interested in going to school. Many of them are very busy focusing on how to make more money in order to support their family members back in Myanmar. In addition to the need to make more money, many Kachin youths did not have enough self-confidence. They thought that they would not be able to afford to pay for the schooling. For these reasons, they gave up on school without even giving it a shot. However, after the outbreak of the conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and the Tatmadaw in 2011, many Kachin youths here became more aware of the importance of the need for education. Many became very enthusiastic and energized to go back to school, but some were worried since they have been away from school for so long. Once they started going back to school, they realized that they could afford school-related expenses, as there are plenty of governmental


financial aid. In addition, tuition fees of Texas’ public universities are lower compared to those of many other states.6 As they started this new journey, they became more confident in themselves. Texan-Kachin youths are studying many different fields at many well-known universities. Today, when Texan-Kachin youths gather, they mostly talk about their school life.

well. Texas will continue to be the most popular state without a doubt, because everything is indeed better, bigger, and brighter in Texas.

As we Texan-Kachins have access to many advantages and resources, I am confident that we will be able to achieve our dream of having a better life for our generation. More Americans are moving to Texas than to any other state. This is a trend in the Kachin-American community as

1

"Texas." Infoplease. <http://www.infoplease.com/us-states/texas.html>.

Bell, Kay. "States with No Income Tax." States with No Income Tax. <http:// www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/states-with-no-income-tax- 1.aspx>. 2

3

"Real Estate Market Reports ." Zillow. <http://www.zillow.com/local-info/>.

"Unemployment Rates for States." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28 Feb. 2014.<http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm>. 4

Spivak, Jeffrey. "Top 10 States for Low Business Taxes and Regulations." Editorial. Urban Land Magazine. <http://urbanland.uli.org/capital-markets/top-10-states-for-lowbusiness-taxes-and-regulations/>. 5

"Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time." CollegeBoard. <http:/ trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-and-fees-sector-and- stateover-time>. 6

Nâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;hpang Lu Mai is currently a sophomore at University of Texas, Austin. She is working toward a B.B.A. in Accounting. 27


Sana Ja Seng Aung Marriage for Kachin is more than a sentimental union between two consenting adults. Traditional Kachin marriage is considered one of the most important aspects of the Kachin culture, because marriage is the cornerstone of the Kachin kinship system (the mayu-dama relationship). That kinship system provides a roadmap of our past and ensures the continuity of the communal partnership to future generations. In the past, marriage transpired according to widely practiced ancestral customs. Still to this day, important aspects of these customs are preserved and valued as the norms of the Kachin society. Although modernity has relaxed some of Kachin marriage customs, 28

there still remain essential rites that are performed as part of the Kachin traditional marriage custom: first, num hpyi num ya ai lam or the engagement ceremony, then, shayi sharawt ya ai lam or the bridal shower, and finally, the wedding ceremony. In Western cultures, a couple becomes engaged after the girl accepts a marriage proposal from the boy. Engagement can be a private or a public affair depending upon how the boy chooses to propose. In contrast, a Kachin engagement is a public affair in which the groomâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s family, dama, formally asks for the bride, and the brideâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s family, mayu, formally accepts the proposal. Marriage has to be consensual not just between the individuals


themselves but also between both families. In addition, all the affairs associated with the engagement have to be settled by the respected representatives (kasa) from both sides of the family. The dama and their representatives come to the mayu’s house to make a formal marriage proposal. Customary proceedings of formal marriage proposal include presenting of the dowry (ja hpa ga), which is called the “evening presents” (nsin ja), because the proposal is always done in the evening. The dama are obligated to bring these items as nsin ja to the bride’s family: ntsin nbaw lit (sticky rice basket with boiled eggs, roasted chicken and ginger), ja joi (gold), gumhpraw joi (silver), nhtu, htu nawng, or nri (swords), magwi kawng (elephant tusks), nga wuloi, kalahkyik lawnghpau, and shawa nang (beaded necklace). Some families demand about ten items. Nowadays, some of those items can be settled with money due to the extinction of highly valued natural resources such as elephant tusks. After the mayu accept the nsin ja, they are ready to proceed to the next discussion. For this part of the discussion, relatives from both the dama and the mayu sides must be in

separate rooms. Each side communicates through their kasa. The dama make the first proposal to the mayu and present an amount of gold/money as a bride price for the daughter. Then the mayu and their kasa decide whether they should accept the proposal or ask for more. The negotiations can take hours, days or, even months. Once the final agreement is reached, the mayu present a sword (ri nhtu/ htunawng/ lupding nhtu/kahtam mai ai nhtu) to the dama. The giving of the sword signifies the giving away of the bride into the hands of the dama. After that, both families proceed to discuss the date of wedding ceremony and other particulars. Then, the groom and bride exchange rings or a traditional woven scarf (ning wawt) in front of the members of both families. Then, normally the day before the wedding, shayi sharawt poi is celebrated in order to honor the bride-to-be. In place of the Kachin’s conservative ways of honoring the bride-to-be, Western cultures has what is commonly known as the “bachelorette party,” which is planned by the friends and families of the bride. The Western bachelorette party of course is taken more lightly than the Kachins’ shayi sharawt poi. In preparation for the shayi sharawt poi, 29


two baskets of gifts (kungdawn kungra lit) are prepared at the mayu’s house. These two baskets are called noi la and noi yi. Noi la is the bigger basket, and noi yi is the smaller one. In noi la, the mayu include two spears and two swords, a triangular traditional grill (hkra), traditional baby slings (bahkap) and other essentials that are important for the new family. In noi yi, the mayu include gold bracelets, necklaces, clothing, all kinds of food, grains, vegetables, and other items

dama. According to the Kachin traditional customs, if the dama family is of chieftain lineage, settlements are to be paid in double. A buffalo is normally provided by the dama for the feast. Wealthy dama sometimes provide more than one buffalo.

valued by the Kachins. The giving of these two baskets symbolizes the bride’s ability to bring richness to her new home. Priests and elders lead the ritual part of the celebration. Friends and relatives of both families present gifts for bride-to-be. During the ceremony, the dama present a gift (ta mayan ja) to the mother of the bride as a way of showing gratitude.

puts bahkap, which symbolizes fertility, on the bride’s shoulder. Then, if the bride has unmarried older sisters, she is required to give them shingtawt ja (appeasements for marrying before them). The maid of honor and the best man accompany the bride and the groom to the wedding hall. They are dressed fully in Kachin traditional garments. Traditionally, the bride’s father walks her down the aisle. In cases where the father is not present, the bride can

The expenses incurred from this celebration are called num sharawt la hpa ga, and are mostly covered by the 30

The last rite of the Kachin traditional marriage process is the wedding ceremony itself. Before leaving the house for the wedding ceremony, the bride’s uncle (ka tsa)


choose if she wants to be walked down by her motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s brothers (ka tsa) or her fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s brothers (ka wa ji or ka wa ba). During the reception, the groomâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mother (ga moi) presents a gift to the bride as an act of welcoming the bride as her daughterin-law (kanam). The gift can be anything valuable.

Kachin identity just by verbally claiming ourselves to be Kachins. On the contrary, we ought to live out the tradition itself.

In the Kachin-American community, every person tends to have a different outlook on marriage and the marriage process has become more about individual choice rather than following traditions. Such attitudes towards traditions have caused many controversies and raised questions about the relationship between traditions and personal freedom. However, it is crucial for us to understand and value our traditions, sometimes even more than our personal freedom, because culture and tradition define who we are. We cannot claim hold of our

as much as possible. Most of us are inclined to discard some of the essential parts the traditions because it is easier, simpler, and saves money to do away with them. And some of us think that the processes related to traditional marriage are oldfashioned. Many couples plan their weddings so last minute that they have no time to prepare for the processes associated with a traditional Kachin marriage. It is indeed a huge challenge to absorb our customs to our busy American lives.

Today in America, most Kachin weddings are being celebrated according to American norms instead of trying to incorporate our traditions

31


When I examine the Kachin community, I am sorry to see that we have almost lost our beautiful marriage customs. Due to the limited availability of resources (and also, due to the lack of knowledge on our part), it has indeed become a huge challenge for us to incorporate our customs into our busy American lives. However, it is important for us to uphold our traditions and to pass it on to the next generation, because the knowledge of our traditions and the act of living them out together will form and hold indivisible bonds within our relationships and our community.

Sana Ja Seng Aung is currently a junior at University of North Florida. She is working toward a B.A. in Accounting. 32


Mashaw Ja Htoi According to Kachin mythology, ancient Kachins had connections with gods and spirits. The gods and spirits helped the Kachin people in times of trouble but sometimes, they also inflicted harm upon the people. When the people cried out for help, the gods and spirits would listen and respond, but they also wanted animal sacrifices in return. The following is a myth about a dragon that was turned into stone because a god heard pleads from a Kachin woman. The stone dragon still exists today in Machang Baw,

which is in Putao, Kachin state. A long time ago, in a little village of Machang Baw, there lived a young mother and her newborn baby. The young mother loved her baby very much and could not part with her baby for even a moment. One day, she decided go for a bath in the river which flows through Machang Baw, for a bath. She took her baby with her to the river. There was nothing wrong with taking a newborn baby to the river, except for the fact that it was thought to be

a very dangerous river, because there was a widespread rumor that a fierce dragon lived in the river. This dragon was said to eat the townâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s people, who came to draw water from the river or to bathe in the river. However, since she did not know exactly whether or not it was true, the woman did not care about the rumored dragon. She took her baby and came to the riverbank to take a bath. She decided to take a bath on the riverbank, not in the river. Before she began bathing, she 33


At the Stone Dragon in Machang Baw, Kachin State. swaddled her baby and put the baby on one of the stones that lined the bank. Then, she walked closer to the riverbank and flipped her head upside down in order to wash her hair. She slowly washed her hair, pouring water on it with a small wooden cup. It took a while for her to finish because she had long hair. As soon as she finished washing her hair, she went back to the stone to check on her baby. But her baby had disappeared! There was no sign of her baby. 34

She only saw the baby’s empty blanket left on the stone. The way the empty blanket was shaped suggested that her baby had been dragged toward the river. Suddenly she realized that the legend about the dragon was true. She was heartbroken, and the woman became very angry at the dragon. She wanted to kill the dragon in order to avenge her baby. But as she was a human being, she was powerless against the fierce dragon.

On the spot, she shouted out loud to the Lightning God for help. She made a heartfelt plea to the Lightning God to help her kill the dragon. As a token of gratitude, she promised to the Lightning God that she would sacrifice the head of a cow to him. The Lightning God agreed to help her and struck the dragon with a bolt of lightning. The dragon’s body fell on the ground near Machang Baw village. Only the dragon’s body and tail can be seen on the ground. The dragon’s head was missing altogether. Some said the dragon’s head was in the river but others said it was underground. After seeing the slain dragon, the young mother killed a cow and sacrificed its head to the Lightning God as she had promised. She knew that if she had not fulfilled her promise to the Lightning God, she also would have been


struck and killed by a lightning bolt. The slain dragon’s gold-covered body lay on the ground (since dragons guarded golden treasures, their scales

my great aunt told me became demythologized. After seeing the stone dragon, I felt as if the story actually could have happened. Apparently, the ancestors of

river? Or was it buried underground? While I was wondering about the dragon's head missing, some thoughts about this unusual relationship

"I think we Kachin ramma in America will go very far in life if we share our experiences and learn from each other’s experiences." are made of gold). Over the years, the Machang Baw villagers picked off the gold pieces bit by bit. And without the gold pieces covering it, the dragon’s body hardened and darkened until it became a stone.

The End This is one of the oral Kachin myths that my great aunt told me when I was in sixth grade. I once visited Machang Baw and saw the stone dragon with my own eyes. All of a sudden this myth that

Machang Baw villagers said that the stone dragon still moved a hundred years ago. The color of the stone is dark brown. It has a dragon’s shape and the actual texture of reptilian scales. It is very long and is almost one and a half feet wide. The height is about two feet. The very top of the body is buried underneath the ground, so I could not see the head and wondered where it was. Is the head really inside the

between humans and gods came up in my mind. It really amazed me that the relationship between humans and gods is so close that even gods and spirits listened to humans’ pleads. In return, humans were loyal to the gods by keeping their promises. There was some kind of a mysterious and beautiful reciprocal relationship between them. Something to learn from this story is not to be foolish and rash. If you know something 35


bad will happen by going into a dangerous zone, just don’t go. If you are warned about danger, then heed the warning. In this story, even though the woman knew that the peopleeating dragon was inside the river, she chose to go there, and consequently lost her baby. We can also learn from this story to think reasonably before we do something. As an English proverb says, "Think before you speak, and look before you leap.” This story also teaches us to learn from other people’s experiences and mistakes so that we will not end up having a great regret like this woman. I think we Kachin ramma in America will go very far in life if we share our experiences and

learn from each other’s experiences. This Kachin myth about the dragon, which was turned into a stone, is a marvelous oral story for us to pass onto the next generation. Our ancestors passed on this story to us because it was valuable to them. They thought there were life lessons we could learn from the story. It is our job to explore and discern the messages that oral stories like this one are meant to relay. I think in some way the very act of storytelling somehow connects us to our ancestors. So, let us narrate these stories to our children and our children’s children and keep our oral tradition alive.

Mashaw Ja Htoi is currently a sophomore at Judson College. She is working toward a B.A. in Secondary-English Language Arts. 36


...

:the journey of Jap Bu Ra Lu Having grown up in America, I have always wondered what my life would be like if I were a teenager in Kachin State. I have always heard bits and pieces of stories about music camps, summer camps, carol singing and hanging out at hpalap seng just gossiping with friends about someone in the youth group. I have always been enchanted by those stories. Even more than that, I think I sort of envy the characters involved in those stories, because they are the ones with the convenience of having friends who speak the same language, the opportunity of developing a romantic relationship with the cute neighbor boy you practically grew up with, and the joy of learning songs in your own language. I have not experienced any of these. Some people say I am one of the lucky ones because I moved to America at age eight. However, I think that has cost me dearly-- an

authentic Kachin ramma experience. Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get me wrong. Life in America is great and everything that people say it would be, but something essential was missing. I innately wanted something different. I did go to summer camps as a middle and high school student, but it was an American experience. When I mistakenly uttered a Kachin word at camp, my friends would look at me with extreme confusion. I had great friends, but I could never talk to them about my childhood, because they just wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t understand that you could play pretend cooking (chyai chyai kawk) with egg shells and corn hair. I was involved in a great youth choir with amazing directors, but all the songs were in English. Just for once, I would like to sing those amazing songs in my language. After having lived in America for half of my life, last summer I got an opportunity to go back to my homeland to teach 37


"

Some people say I am one of the lucky ones because I moved to America at age eight. However, I think that has cost me dearly-- an

authentic Kachin ramma experience."

English at the Kachin Theological College (KTC). There I was able to get a small dose of life in Kachin State. I landed in Myitkyina airport on an extremely hot and humid day. As I was getting off the plane, I could hear the officials were speaking in Burmese, but in small whispers, I could already make out a couple of Kachin conversations, and I knew I was home. As I got nearer to Shatapru, my neighborhood, I got really excited. My sister and I started identifying places where we did this and that. Even just by seeing those places from my memory, I felt like I was reliving my childhood. The greatest joy was when I was reunited with my Ah Hkai. I hugged 38

her as soon as I saw her. In that long overdue embrace, all I felt were her scrawny bones under me. It was so surreal to think that this tiny lady once gave me piggyback rides in order to take me to tutoring sessions. Thinking about old times made me realize how much I miss being home. I was so happy to be finally back. My sister and I spend most of our time at the KTC. That was where we were sarama and also had many of our “first” experiences of being Kachin ramma. At the KTC we lived in a small one-story house with five other mahkawn sarama. I guess this was as close of an “ah sawng” experience as we were going to get. The sarama, whom I can now call my friends, were some of the nicest and most hospitable people I have ever met. From the moment we arrived, they welcomed us into their home and treated us as old friends. We ate, laughed and shared our life story with them. With them even the nights when the power was out were fun. During such nights, someone would pick up a guitar and we would all start singing traditional Kachin songs. Then someone would get up and start dancing to the songs. By the end of the song, we would all be laughing uncontrollably. It was during simple moments like this that I felt like I was home.


Many of my favorite moments were spent exploring the Kachin State and spending time with the students. At Nawng Nang I didn’t have to travel 10 miles out of my ah sawng to be in nature; it was simply all around me. Every morning I was able to run up to Jaw Bum and see our land as far as my eyes could see. The beautiful surrounding gave me a sense of peace and tranquility that I haven’t yet experienced in my life. During the weekdays, we went to a guitar class ran by the students, taught English classes, conversed with the students about their life and the situation in the Kachin State, and took afternoon walks by the Mili Hka

riverside. During weekends, we went to ramma hpawng or we traveled to places like Sadung, Sangrila and Myitsone. One of my favorite moments from the summer took place on our trip to Myitsone with our students. There one of our students narrated the story of Hkrai Gam and Hkrai Nawg, a very well known Kachin oral story about two brothers whose father was a dragon. As I listened to the student’s narration, I began to feel a great appreciation for our intricately rich and beautiful oral culture. During my time at the KTC, I learned that Kachin ramma are most excited about soccer, singing and

With MSE-B students at Myitsone 39


spare time. They are full of energy, angry with them. I only felt enthusiasm, and so ready for life. But sympathy. there is one area in which they lack I now understand what people enthusiasm-- education. My sister meant when they said that I was and I co-taught six English classes. It lucky to have moved to America at a became very apparent to us that our young age. They weren’t talking students were so used to memorizing about air-conditioned rooms or that they had forgotten how to learn. smooth, straight highways. They In classroom, they were like timid were in fact talking about the children. When we asked them opportunity to learn, the privilege of questions, they responded with having all the resources I need to awkward silences and sheepish study, and the ability to use my mind stares. We could sense that our to question and to discern for students wanted to know, speak, answers. read and comprehend English so Last summer, I lived in Myitkyina badly. Unfortunately, the many years for three of intellectual months. I now imprisonment in the Burmese Through my experience, I came have a ramma experience of public school to understand that our land is a my own. system held Through my beautiful land filled with them back. I This is the ugly beautiful people, but it has a experience, came to reality of the sickness-sickness of the understand that Kachin ramma our land is a experience in mind. beautiful land Burma that I filled with wasn’t beautiful people, but it has a expecting. At first I was angry with sickness-- sickness of the mind. them (the students) for not learning Nelson Mandela once said, what I was teaching. I thought, if “Education is the most powerful only they would do the homework I weapon which we can use to change told them to do and read the way I the world.” Kachin youths in America showed them, they would have these have the opportunity to gain concepts down in no time. However, ownership of this “most powerful I gradually came to grasp the reality weapon.” The youths in the Kachin of their situation. I was no longer 40


State desperately need it. They are waiting for us to share enlightenment and ways of thinking with them. This is our opportunity to perform our duty to our people; we can do this simply by sharing our knowledge with them.

Our visit to Jaw Bum on Father's Day of 2013

Jap Bu Ra Lu is currently a sophomore at University of Florida. She is working toward a B.A. in Political Science and Advertising. 41


Academic Year 2013-14* Kachin College & University Students ALABAMA

Judson College Mashaw Ja Htoi BA Secondary-English Language Arts, 2016

CALIFORNIA

City College of San Francisco Lashi-Labya Htu San BS Nursing, 2016

Ohlone College Hkangda Lu Lu Tsan BA Finance, 2014

University of California, Berkeley Kareng Kai Din BS Molecular Environmental Biology, 2015

CONNECTICUT

Yale University Jap Ja Ngai Awng BA Political Science and Judaic Studies, 2014

FLORIDA

Barry University Tangbau Robert AS Nursing, 2015

* Please note that this is not a complete list of all the Kachin students in college/university programs in the AY 2013-14. This list includes only the students who filled out a form (with complete information) that was circulated online from September, 2013 to February, 2014. 42


FLORIDA (continued)

Florida State College, Jacksonville Myihtoi Nang Tsin BBA International Business, 2018 N-Ring Zaw Tu Aung AAS Electrical Construction, 2014 Ja Seng Brim AA Education, 2014

University of Florida Jap Bu Ra Lu BA Political Science and Advertising, 2016

University of North Florida Mashaw Bawk Din BA Accounting, 2015 Sana Ja Seng Aung BA Accounting, 2015

University of South Florida Dawshi Ja Seng Nan BS Biomedical Science, 2016 Sana Doi Ja BS Cell and Molecular Biology, 2016 Sana Hkawn Nu BS Mechanical Engineering, 2015

ILLINOIS

College of DuPage Lahtaw Seng Bawk AS Nursing, 2015

43


INDIANA

Crossroads Bible College Lachung Haung Dau BS Management and Ethics, 2014

Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana Layang Seng Mun AAS Building Construction Management, 2015

MARYLAND

University of Maryland, College Park Sumlut Jewel BA Film Studies, 2014

MASSACHUSETTS

Bunker Hill Community College Marip Hpraw Shim Lu AA Psychology, 2014

MICHIGAN

Ferris State University Lasham Seng Mun Pan Doctor of Pharmacy, 2018

NEW YORK

Cornell University Lahpai Matthew Master of Public Administration, 2014

Mohawk Valley Community College Tangbau Jaw Seng Aung AS Civil Engineering, 2014

44


PENNSYLVANIA

Cairn University Lamai Seng Hkum BA Business Administration, 2013

Harrisburg Area Community College Lasap Hawng Nyoi BS Biology in Life Science, 2016

Juniata College Tangbau Nang Seng BA International Studies, 2015

TENNESSEE

College of Health Science Maran Hong Yaw Myaw BS Nursing, 2016

TEXAS

Lubbock Christian University Shadan Steven Sut Naw BS Engineering, 2018

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Gunhtang Seng Hkawn BS Biblical Studies, 2017

Tarrant County College Nâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;hpang Seng Ra BS Nursing, 2017 Sinpraw Sut Dan Mai

BA Political Science, 2016

University of North Texas Shadan Peter BA Biology, 2014

University of Texas, Dallas Julia Nang Zi BS Accounting, 2014 45


TEXAS (continued)

University of Texas, Austin Nâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;hpang Lu Mai BBA Accounting, 2016

VIRGINIA

J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College Lamai Aung Du BA Education, 2017

James Madison University Patrick Aung BA International Affairs, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C

The George Washington University Dingra Hpung Ale Lung BS Mechanical Engineering, 2014

46


Congratulations, Class of 2014!!!


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