By Nicole Davis
Chin National Day is a celebration of freedom, liberty and equality – something the people of Myanmar continue to fight for to this day. For the 20,000 Southside Indianapolis Chin residents, it’s also a chance to celebrate their culture and heritage.
Chin National Day celebrations in Indianapolis usually draw a large crowd. While the in-person celebration is limited to 200 invited guests this year, the event will be broadcast to the public online for anyone who wishes to watch. The Chin Community of Indiana (CCI) anticipates 2,000 live viewers and more than 30,000 globally.
The Feb. 20 celebration lasts from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Chin Evangelical Baptist Church and will include cultural dances, a cultural fashion show and guest speakers from Chin and Indianapolis community leaders. Typically there is a Lai Paih event – wrestling – but that has been canceled this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Hosts have been asked to speak both Chin and English translations.
“This is the biggest event for our Chin people,” said Stephen Sangcem Sakhong, Chin National Day community chair and assistant secretary of CCI. “A lot of people will be watching it online. We would like to invite all American people, our friends, to watch our livestream so that they can learn more about Chin. We have our literature, our culture, our background. We have a long history.”
Visit facebook.com/chincommunityIN or indychins.org for more information.
What is the significance of Chin National Day?
On Feb. 20 each year, Chin people commemorate the events of Feb. 19-20, 1948 where 5,000 representatives voted to adopt democracy in Falam, Chinland. Chinland is located in the northwestern portion of Myanmar (formerly Burma). The Chins have been widely discriminated and suppressed by the Myanmar military government for decades. For the past 15 years thousands of Chins have escaped from Chinland and Myanmar and entered host countries, including the U.S., as political refugees. They continue to fight for democracy and freedom to this day as another military coup began Feb. 1, 2021 in Myanmar.
Finding the beauty in diversity
Sui Len Par develops a passion for learning and sharing about her Chin culture
By Nicole Davis
Sui Len Par immigrated to the United States from the Chin State in Myanmar as a young child at 7 or 8 years old. She resided in Albany, N.Y., where there were few other Chin families. She was immersed into American culture, which didn’t afford her many opportunities to learn about her Chin heritage.
It wasn’t until she moved to Indianapolis in 2010 that she began to learn more. Later, as a freshman at Perry Meridian High School, she joined many extracurriculars where she was surrounded by other Chin students, many of whom were like her and didn’t know much about the Chin culture.
“With the help of our fellow teachers and peers, we decided to create a cultural festival to celebrate all of the different cultures at our school” Par said. “I was the director and planner, so I had to educate myself about the different cultures, especially mine. There are different tribal groups in my culture. All I knew were the two major ones: Hakha and Falam. I am part of the Hakha tribal group. Luckily, I have friends from different tribal groups. Getting to know them more, it made me realize how beautiful my culture is. We have different clothing attires, different cuisines, different ways of dealing with family matters and marriage. I really found that there is a beauty in our diversity.”
In 2019, Par was introduced to the Chin Community of Indiana, a nonprofit which helps Chin refugees and immigrants integrate into the local social structure. She and a friend met with the CCI president to learn more about what the youth can do for the future of Chin National Day events.
“We had a lot of feedback from the youth saying that it could be enjoyable if they incorporated more dances, entertainment, things like that,” Par said.
In 2020, she was in charge of the kids’ cultural fashion show. Eighteen boys and girls represented the tribal groups’ different attires.
“I really enjoyed it a lot,” Par said. “I had worked with some Chin adults before but never the CCI leaders and board of directors. I think it was a good experience. Not only did I learn more about our culture, but I taught the kids about our culture.”
Now a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington studying political science and marketing, Par has continued her volunteer work with CCI as the youth council chairman. For this year’s Chin National Day celebrations on Feb. 20, Par is involved with organizing the fashion show and coordinating the cultural dance.
“This year they will be in for a show,” Par said. “We have cut down on dances, but they will see different tribal groups, the beauty of the clothes and the beauty of the messages of the cultural dances we’re planning to do. The dances are all different, so it’s not the same basic movements, music or outfits.”
Par said she’s also excited about a new element to the Chin National Day celebrations this year. Youth have been asked to write an essay about the importance of their Chin history. The winner will be invited to read the essay aloud in their own language and dialect.
“Since we are constantly surrounded by people that speak English and we spend most of our time in school learning about the American culture, it’s important to remember where we come from and our identity,” Par said. “At the end of the day, our parents sacrificed so much for us to come here and have opportunities that they never had. Remembering who we are, and our identity is our ultimate goal of the youth that are here in America.”