On the bustling Fourth of July weekend, Zomi communities – one of the minority ethnic groups from Western and Northwestern Myanmar – across the United States came together for the biennial Zomi Conference 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hosted by Zomi Community USA (Zomi Innkuan USA or ZIUSA), the conference lasted three days, with events including business meetings, food fairs, sports and pageant competitions, cultural performances, and youth forums. In total, 5,000 to 7,000 Zomi attended the conference.
Zomi is an ethnic group inhabiting mountainous towns in northwestern Myanmar, as well as in India and Bangladesh. Zomi populations now residing in the United States once fled their homes to escape religious persecution for their Christian faith. Many Zomis resettled in Oklahoma given the state’s strong Christian community. Swiftly, the city of Tulsa became “Zomi town” and is now home to approximately 7,000 to 9,000 Zomis. To support and advocate for the growing Zomi community in Tulsa and across the United States, ZIUSA was founded in March 2005 as a community-based nonprofit organization. As of today, the organization acts as an umbrella organization with 49 local chapters in different parts of the United States.
As a part of ZIUSA’s activities, the Zomi Conference, also known as Zomi Khawmpi in the native Zomi language, usually takes place every two years. This year’s conference occurred after a four-year hiatus due to the global pandemic. During an interview with East-West Center’s Young Professional Su Myat Noe, the Chairman of ZIUSA, Tual Suan explained, “[The] purpose of the Conference is to promote and preserve our Zomi identity and culture. Zomi is a minority ethnic group in Myanmar as well as in the United States. Without events like Zomi Khawmpi, we might face a loss of our Zomi identity”.
Hau Suan Khai – the Chairman of local Zomi Community Oklahoma and the Congress Speaker of ZIUSA – joyfully expressed in an interview with East-West Center Young Professional Su Myat Noe, “I am honored and pleased to welcome and host Zomi relatives and friends from other states here in Tulsa”. When asked about her experience as a youth participant at the Conference’s Youth Development sessions, Don Nuam (Kyi Nue) reflected, “It is nice to go to an event that you can completely relate to. We don’t get a lot of events like this here in the [United States]. This event is just for the Zomi people. It was tailored for us which makes it more special, and all immigrants need this kind of experience.”
Since the 2021 coup, the people of Chin States have fiercely stood against the junta and participated in the peaceful Civil Disobedience Movement and armed resistance. Considering the crises at home, the Chairman of ZIUSA voiced in an interview, “We, Zomi people in the [United States] and Myanmar, don’t accept illegitimate State Administration Council (SAC) led by Min Aung Hlaing, and at the conference, ZIUSA discussed means to participate and aid resistance movement at home as much as possible.” As humanitarian crises in Myanmar escalate, Burmese diaspora like Zomi Innkuan USA are worried for their relatives at home and continue to search for ways to better assist the anti-coup resistance at conferences like Zomi Khawmpi.
Su Myat Noe is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a Master’s student at The University of Oklahoma’s College of International and Area Studies, with interests in International Development and Human Security Issues/Policies in Myanmar and Southeast Asia.