Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

June 11, 2015

No Longer Invisible: Shwe Zin

This personal submission is a part of the “No Longer Invisible: In Their Own Words” project, a story series established to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month at the UW.

Shwe Zin

Name: Shwe Zin

Identity: Burmese

Majors: Psychology, Pre-Med

Personal Interests: “My favorite celebration of all time is the Burmese New Years, Thingyen! I’d like to think of it as the Christmas of the Burmese calendar. It’s also known as the water festival so everyone is splashing water on each other, with water guns, buckets, or hoses. It’s so much fun and good vibes all around!”

“I’m Burmese, but there are many ethnicities in Burma, and I make up three of them. I am a quarter Mon, a quarter Burmese, and half Karen. But I was also born in Thailand, as my family were refugees living in Thailand at the time. It’s important to answer your identity as you identify yourself. Don’t simplify it for the sake of others. It’s important for people to realize that people are not defined by one thing. Especially in today’s age, people come from really diverse backgrounds. If they ask you what you are, tell them what you are.”

“My eldest sister was born 4 months after the 1988 uprising in Burma. Not long after she was born, my father fled across the border to Thailand, along with the many students involved in the uprising. My mom followed him thereafter, and ever since then, my family have lived in various refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border both as displaced refugees, and as rebels involved in the ABSDF (All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, a resistance group against Burmese military regime). When I was five, and my baby sister only months old, my father unexpectedly passed away. For three years, my mother raised four children with the help of the ABSDF members. After eventually deciding that it was in our best interest to move to a first world country, our family applied to migrate to the United States through UNHCR. With a family in Tri-Cities, WA to sponsor us, my family and I arrived in Kennewick, WA in 2005.

For me, home is where my family is. Home is also where my heart is. Before I called Tri-Cities home, my home was back in Thailand. It was where my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were. But as time passed, I came to call Tri-Cities home. I had my favorite park, my favorite coffee shop, my favorite place to sit and read. Now, I can call Seattle home. I have people here that I feel will help me grow into the person I want to be. I have people here that believe in me, and not only ignite my motivation and drive to make a difference in my community, but provide me with the resources to achieve my goals and dreams. Home is wherever you wish it to be. Wherever I feel I belong, wherever I feel safe and feel like a part of something bigger than myself, that is a place I can call home.

It’s important for any community really, to be visible and to be heard. There are many stories that go untold and a lot of the time, stay untold. And I truly believe that some of the most important stories that need to be heard are the ones that are kept silent, the ones that are never given a chance to tell their story. My story is only one of the many refugee stories, and it is much more fortunate compared to many others, such as my parents, my uncles, my grandparents, and my friends that are still living back in the camps, who will probably never have a chance to tell their story. But it is nonetheless important for my story to be visible, because I can serve as the voice of many that do not have the opportunity. It is important for our communities to be visible because we matter. Our stories matter.

A vision I have for myself and my Burmese community is to return to my country. Right now, there is an urgent need in Burma for young, open minds. I would really like to encourage more Burmese youths to attain higher education and use their skills to give back to the Burmese community, because we truly are the ones that can make a difference. My parents’ generation sacrificed their lives for our country. It is our generation that must continue the fight, but with education as our weapon. It is my vision that one day, Burma will be a country with free speech, a country with high standards of education, free of prejudice, free of greed for power, and become a country that my father, uncles, and grandfathers died fighting for.

My personal vision for the Asian/Asian American & PI communities is for us to learn about our own culture better, and to embrace it. The Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities is an umbrella term for a plethora of diverse culture and traditions. Each of them is just as unique and beautiful as the next.”

View mores stories from the “No Longer Invisible: In Their Own Words” project.