In early February, the Municipal Minister of Myanmar’s Mon state signed a memorandum of understanding with a visiting delegation from Fort Wayne, Indiana to formally establish a diplomatic relationship between Fort Wayne and the Burmese city of Mawlamyine. Both sides hope to facilitate educational exchanges between the two cities over the next two years and promote cooperation in engineering and civic projects. Currently designated as “friendship cities,” the two are aiming towards a full sister city relationship by the end 2016. Once formalized, Mawlamyine will be Fort Wayne’s 5th sister city relationship, and its third in Asia, joining active partnerships already in place with Taizhou, China and Takaoka, Japan.
The signing of the friendship city agreement had recently been approved by the Burmese government. The country was ruled by a military dictatorship for 60 years but recently began democratic reforms and reestablishing international relationships, including with the US in 2011. The bilateral exchange of ambassadors in 2012 was the first time that occurred since 1990 when the US stopped diplomatic relationships in protest of Myanmar’s military regimes.
Fort Wayne will become the first US city to have a sister city in Myanmar once the relationship is formalized. It is a natural pairing, as there is already a substantial Burmese cultural presence in Fort Wayne. Burmese Americans represent 2% of the local population. Grocery stores and restaurants which sell authentic Burmese ingredients and cuisine have seen success in Fort Wayne. America’s only Burmese mosque is in Fort Wayne, becoming the first such mosque built anywhere in the world in the last 40 years when it was completed in 2015.
Beyond the relationship between cities, Indiana has collaborated with Myanmar in a number of areas including education, health, and immigration. Indiana welcomed 2,747 Burmese refugees from 2012 to 2014, construing the majority of refugee intake in the state. The US Department of State also brought 20 students from Myanmar to Indiana as part of a youth leadership program in 2014.
Bowrun Hou is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the University of Sydney.