KITCHENER — Celebrating Chin National Day in Kitchener is bitter sweet for Victor Khambil.
In Burma — now called Myanmar — Chin traditions like the bamboo dance and harvest dance are forbidden, but at King Edward Public School on Saturday the Chin dances, costumes and song filled the gym.
Chin National Day commemorates the date of Burmese independence from Britain in 1948, but it has more meaning to Khambil and other Chin refugees.
“It’s our chance to show our children who are born here that we are a distinct people,” Khambil said.
Khambil, 37, fled Burma as a refugee, arriving in Kitchener in 2004.
Like many other ethnic Chins he still has family members in Myanmar, where he said the Chin people are persecuted for their nationality and Christian religion.
The Southeast Asian country is controlled by a military junta. The Chin — a minority nationality of 500,000 — are not allowed to observe their cultural traditions, learn their own language in school, or observe Christian faith, Khambil said.
In 1988, the junta killed 3,000 students during uprisings against the government, Khambil said. Today, he thinks there is a possibility the unrest seen in Middle East countries could spread to Myanmar to inspire their own uprising.
The country is heavily isolated from the outside world, but Khambil thinks rising frustration within the junta, and easier communication because of the internet can lead to change.
Internet use is heavily restricted, but “somehow (Burmese) get through it,” Khambil said.
Khambil said they celebrate their culture here, because at home in Myanmar, “with the military, there is nothing we can enjoy.”
Chin National Day 021.JPG Members of the Chin community, an ethnic group from Myanmar, perform a bamboo dance during the Chin National Day in Kitchener, Saturday. Mathew McCarthy/Record staff