When people asked me where I’m from and I tell them that I’m Burmese, they are surprised to know that I don’t speak Burmese language fluently. I’m like yep, that’s the case. But they don’t understand that Burma is incredibly diverse. Not everyone’s first language in Burma is Burmese or even for Burmese people born and raised abroad.
Burma is made up over 135 ethnic groups and each group have their own language. I was born in Burma. My parents are ethnic minorities in Burma. Therefore, because of them I come from an ethnic minority background in Burma. My people make up 1-3% of the Burmese population. So Burmese is not even my first language because the first languages I learned were my parents’ growing up, then later on I learned Burmese.The Bamar which makes up the majority of the population in Burma is akin to the White population in the US.
Burmese is the native language or tongue for the Bamar group and thus the most common language spoken in Burma. However both of my parents speak Burmese with varying degrees. So it’s quite common for minorities to speak Burmese well or fluently.
But this is the part where my life got changed for the worse. My family became refugees when I was a toddler. We fled to Thailand and lived there for couple of years. Then moved to America. Once again I had to learn new languages: Thai and English!
So you can imagine the myriad of cultural opportunities I had and how that might affect my cultural identity.
This is why I feel like the term Burmese American doesn’t do justice for me. Intellectually I know I am Burmese. But emotionally I feel Thai even though I barely speak Thai now. Nostalgia hit me the hardest whenever I listen to Thai pop songs or watch Thai lakorns. It makes me long for Thailand and the culture there. I love love Thai people and the weather. I love Thai humor probably the most which is why I feel like sometime people don’t understand my humor because it may have been influenced by Thai culture.
Do I feel American? Absolutely. There is no doubt that I feel American, especially when I’m proud to know that Americans have such tremendous global influence. Do I feel 100% American? No. But do I feel strongly American? Yes.
But I struggle with feeling Burmese. It is quite odd and amazing how one can struggle with feeling -ese with one’s birth country. I mean c’mon I should feel Burmese! That’s my birth country! But sadly not everyone feel strongly connected to their birth place or country in my case. I admit I do feel Burmese at times. But the feelings aren’t strong as I do about Thailand and USA. But it makes sense though because I left Burma at a very young. What little memories I have there is nothing compared to of Thailand and US.
Maybe I am more Burmese than I thought.
But I do know one thing for sure is that I am a very multicultural person. 🙂
I love being multicultural! I love Burma, Thailand, and the USA! These three are the best countries in the world at least to me. 🙂
But right now in my life I’m not going to beat myself up for not knowing Burmese fluently. My parents did the best they can. I come from a very tough political situation.
I’m just glad to be alive and to be able to pursue the American dream.
I just need to make the best of my situation and I think I’m doing that the best I can, you know?