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Nationhood, identity and stories

Michelle Aung Thin is the author of The Monsoon Bride. Born in Burma before growing up in Canada, Aung Thin was raised with tales of her Burmese history by her parents and family, but didn’t have a connection with her past. The stories she was told felt removed from her existence, similar to a fairytale told to children.

This was before Aung Thin went to research one of the stories she was heard as a child. The story was her parents’, as they tried to leave Rangoon during the Japanese invasion in the 1930s. According to the story, Aung Thin’s parents were aboard a train, heading to cross the Indian border. Aung Thin’s mother was pregnant with Michelle, and the situation was one of life and death. There were thousands of Burmese trying to flee the Japanese army, and there weren’t enough vehicles to see everyone to safety.

The train that was taking Aung Thin’s family to safety was bombed, and this left the family in a situation. There was only one plane to take refugees to India and luckily, her family was able to get on board and across the border.

This was a story that was told in great detail to Aung Thin, but she was unable to comprehend that this was her story, her history. It more than just a fairytale to her, but it was her fairytale. When Aung Thin went to the British Archives to research this story, she found out that much of this story was reality.

The story of Burma’s history isn’t as settled as somewhere such as Australia. Rather than there being a definite ‘Burmese’ race, Burma is a nation made up of a wide range of ethnic societies and communities. Before colonial intervention, the nation did not exist, and thus Burma did not have a national identity.

Since colonialism and the borders it created, the countries surrounding Burma have been contesting them. The totalitarian regime that has ruled the nation has meant that for many years, stories and news from inside Burma have been hard to come by outside its borders. This inspired Aung Thin to write The Monsoon Bride, as this period of history is unwritten and very often unspoken. Compared with the other events that took place in the 1930s, the struggles of Burma for identity and independence has been one either ignored or unknown.

Michelle Aung Thin speaks from a generation who grew up hearing about Rangoon being an amazing place, filled with opportunities. Her father came to the city with nothing, funded himself through law school and ended up opening a law firm. He was able to marry, start a family and purchase his own home.

That was Rangoon back then, a diverse cosmopolitan city, but now it is something completely different, and only a change from the silence of totalitarian rule to the open speech of democracy can bring back. Michelle Aung Thin is a voice from a land that needs it story heard.

Michelle Aung Thin spoke with author Janie Conway-Herron.

Aaron Monopoli is a Southern Cross University media student.

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