I Don’t Know What I Am: Am I really Burmese American?

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?



8 thoughts on “I Don’t Know What I Am: Am I really Burmese American?

  1. What an interesting background you have, and I smiled when you identified yourself as a multicultural person. It seems that you have a connection to each of Burma, Thailand and America. But moving around when we are growing up, sometimes we can feel so near yet so far to a particular culture or group of people. I suppose what you do know is in each of these three countries, you have some kind of special connection.

    I am born in Australia to Chinese-Malaysian parents, but moved to Malaysia and Singapore for a decade when I was a teenager. Though I now permanently live in Australia, I don’t call Australia home. At times, I don’t feel wholly Chinese – I don’t speak Chinese, my parents say I am too Western for living independently, and so on. But yet, sometimes I feel Chinese, like when I use chopsticks to eat at home. Or when I crave some Chinese, Malaysian-made brand potato chips. It’s the little things that usually remind us of the cultures that have made an impact on our lives, and are actually important and of significant to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice! If I may ask how come you moved to Malaysia and Singapore? I notice that there is a pattern among Asians in Western countries actually it seems more from Chinese Asians. Basically they either lived in the parent’s country or was born in another country, but they later have a back and forth relationship to Asia and Western countries.

    That’s true it’s the little things.
    I think we will never fully be of one culture or country we just need to embrace all of it you know?

    Have you heard of Third Culture Kid? You sound like you might be one!
    In my next post, I’m going to talk about third culture kids.


  3. Man, I know this existential struggle really well. My family moved to the States from Togo when I was 13 and from time to time, I pause to ask “who am I? what is my true identity?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow what a unique country! I actually have heard of it before just briefly.

      Yesss!! Every time we move to a country before we become adults, it throws us off and makes us think what our identity is.

      However you are what you want to be.


  4. Your posts and comments are giving me life! Just to know that I am not alone in this identity struggle is so comforting!!

    The thing about the U.S. is that because it’s so big, there’s different cultures within states, within cities…someone could move from the north to the south and feel completely out of place! My identity struggles has such layers…my birth culture is the Brooklyn, NY culture. And I have never completely felt like I belonged there. Even though I was born and raised there, I was constantly being made to feel like I was strange for many different reasons. I connect deeply to my Jamaican culture and when I am in New York I get to experience a bit of tha because of the huge Jamaican population there and representation of Caribbean culture in general there.

    However I don’t really connect to American culture and I often feel like I’m posing…being someone I know how to be but not really being able to connect authentically with it. But I live here so it’s a daily struggle and I often wonder where is it that I will feel truly at peace. I am still searching for that and it’s great to know I’m not alone on this journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow that is amazing that you don’t feel connected to the New York culture. I wonder why?
      Yep, New York has an amazing Jamaican culture. I grew up with and know so many Jamaicans, Jamaican Americans, Carribeans, etc So I’m quite aware that NY has a huge Carribean culture and just so many things, because it’s well, New York. lol.

      Yess America is so huge! I love it. 🙂

      I know what you mean about the American part! I feel like a poser too. Like I know how to act like one yet I don’t exactly feel 100% intimate or connected to it. To me it’s such a shame, because as Americans we boast to ourselves and to other people that we are such a melting pot, yet while we say that, even in the most diverse circumstances, there’s still this common ideal of what it is to be an American and stuff.

      Yep you are not alone my friend. I think many of us struggle with identity issues. I hope we will find answers to them.


  5. as a nurse, i work in a clinic that cares for many refugees and in the last 10 years or so there were a growing number of Burmese refugees in my area. when i meet them they don’t identify themselves as Burmese but Karen.

    so reading your post, i can understand why it’s difficult for you to identify yourself as Burmese (especially if your family were political survivors).

    identity is a tough topic. i’m glad to read your thoughts though, as you sift through the process and learn more what it means to be southeast asian american (i say that since you identify more with being Thai). look forward to reading more about you through your blog. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like…Southeast Asian American…That to me sounds so authentic and better than Burmese/Asian American or even American. I might even start using that..but it may raise some eyebrows.

      Yes identity is a tough issue and a funny one.

      The funny thing is I actually identify myself as a Burmese person than call myself the ethnic group my parents are from, because simply I truly do not feel like explaining to my friends, acquaintances, or strangers what that means when people barely know where Burma is on the map. So telling others that I’m Burmese is sufficient. It answers their “What are you?” question that they are dying to know and well I can’t blame them. I think I would be curious to know what I am if I weren’t me. 😛 lol.
      But calling myself Burmese leaves me empty…It’s like a shallow meaning to me..It’s something I know I am..but not how I feel…It answers the “What am I?” question, but doesn’t answer “Why I am?” question.

      I never thought about it until you mention it, but I didn’t really think how being a minority in Burma might affect the way I see myself as Burmese. Even though my parents are ethnic minorities, I feel like they see themselves as Burmese too, or maybe not.

      Yes, Karen of Burmese people(to me they are Burmese people I’m talking about nationally not ethnically) are one of the more vocal people if not the most that wish not to be called Burmese because of the harsh persecution and discrimination they face from the Burmese government and people.

      I believe them and the Rohingya are the ones that go through the worst persecution from the Burmese government.

      Liked by 1 person

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