FORT WAYNE — About 600 Chin, members of an ethnic minority from Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma, came together Saturday in Fort Wayne for a celebration that likely would be suppressed in their native land.
The 65th anniversary of Chin National Day was marked with singing, dancing, speeches, prayers and food at Sunset Hall, 6809 Hanna St.
Visiting dignitary Ro Dinga, chairman of the Burmese-American Community Institute in Indianapolis, said the celebration honors Feb. 20, 1948.
That’s when the Chin, who reside in northwest Myanmar, decided “to embrace the democratic system” in a spirit of unity, he said.
But affairs did not go smoothly, with the country’s dictatorship in recent decades trying to suppress Chin identity and the people’s stirrings toward independence, he said.
“It is a most historic and meaningful day for the Chin,” he said. But in Burma, such displays of pride are “not allowed.”
From the platform, speakers said it was “a duty” for Chin living outside Myanmar to celebrate Chin National Day.
Others said that the Chin are still undergoing what amounts to civil war and military oppression, and prayers were offered for the suffering of families.
Many attendees, including scores of children, wore clothing that signified their ethnic identities – for men, white woven shirts with blue, green, red, black and golden vertical striping, and for women, woven skirts with red, and green horizontal stripes.
The Chin are known for their traditional weaving skills, attendees said.
Dinga, a veterinarian, said his father was elected to parliament by the party of democratic reformer Aung San Suu Kyi, who visited Fort Wayne last year. He said many Chin are among her supporters.
It is important for refugees “to build unity and respect for our language and culture,” Dinga said.
“We need to remember our motherland in Burma and our family tree. We need to work more for the people inside Burma, and we need to be aware of the situation in Burma.”
He complimented Fort Wayne’s Chin refugee community.
“This is a very significant, exciting and successful (event) organization,” he said. “I was in Indianapolis for eight years, and I never saw the local community celebrate like this.”