The Chin Youth Organization of North America (CYONA) held its 12th Biennial Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana from June 30 to July 3, 2023. The convention reminded the audience of the origins of the Chin diaspora in America, celebrated their roots, and envisaged the future of the Chin community.
The Chin, of Sino-Tibetan origin, primarily reside in western Burma and are one of the founding groups of the independent Union of Burma. They also live in north-east India, particularly in Mizoram and Manipur, and in certain regions of Bangladesh. Approximately 85% of them are Christians, while the remainder mainly practice Buddhism or Animism; a small fraction identify with Judaism.
Their migration to America began in the late 20th century, prompted by conflicts and the pursuit of better opportunities in Myanmar (Burma). Today, the Chin community in North America numbers around 70,000, seamlessly integrating into the fabric of North American society while preserving their distinct culture and traditions.
Following the 2021 military coup in Myanmar (Burma), the Chin people have faced immense suffering and hardship. The military takeover has led to a surge in violence, with the Chin State being one of the hardest hit areas. Numerous reports of human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and forced labor, have emerged. The conflict has forced thousands to flee their homes, leading to a humanitarian crisis as displaced persons struggle to access basic needs such as food, water, and medical care.
The 12th CYONA Biennial Convention bore witness to this remarkable journey of the Chin community. The theme "Celebrating Our Roots, Embracing Our Future" resonated with the over 3,000 Chin youth in attendance, creating a harmonious blend of cultural appreciation and forward-thinking ethos.
The event was brimming with activities, including traditional Chin wrestling, cultural displays, various sports, and a captivating beauty pageant. The participation in these activities was more than a display of talent and sportsmanship; it was an affirmation of the Chin community's roots, identity, and unity.
Chin Traditional Wrestling at the 12th Biennial Convention Chin Youth Organization of North America 2023 [Image: Author, Lian T Hnin, Indianapolis]
Moreover, a panel discussion was held to foster intellectual discourse, highlighting the event's focus on youth empowerment and aligning with its theme: 'Remembering Our Root, Embracing Our Future'. The presence of distinguished guests such as the Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales, Senator Todd Young (R- IN), who gave a video-recorded keynote speech, and U Kyaw Zaw, a spokesperson from the National Unity Government of Myanmar further enriched the discussions, underlining the importance of political engagement at both local and international levels.
In a conversation during the event with East-West Center Young Professional Lian Thawng Hnin, CYONA President Van Lal Lian described the spirit of the convention. "This event serves as a reflection on our shared journey, while also laying the foundation for the future we envision, celebrating our roots informs our past, enriches our present, and guides our future. Our youth carry forward our culture, values, and identity."
Highlighting the broader vision, Van emphasized that the success of the biennial rested on more than just the numbers. "It's the shared sense of belonging, the invigorating passion, and the collective resolution of the Chin youth to uphold our cultural heritage and values that truly signify success," Lian added.
The 12th Biennial of the CYONA was a symbolic representation of the Chin diaspora's journey in North America, encapsulating a rich history, a vibrant present, and a hopeful future. As the Chin community in North America expands, initiatives like the CYONA Biennial are pivotal in fostering a future filled with celebrations of culture, unity, and resilient spirit of the Chin people.
Lian Thawng Hnin is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a graduate student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, focusing on international security and trade relations with a regional focus on Southeast Asia.