Burma’s 50 million residents have lived under the rule of a violent authoritarian junta since 1962. Millions have fled the country, and hundreds of thousands now live in refugee camps along the country’s borders. Ma Su Mon is an ethnic Burman who became involved in the pro-democracy movement in 1966, when the government shut down the nation’s universities. After the National League for Democracy–the country’s main opposition movement–made her a full youth member, she was arrested by military intelligence officers and taken to Insein Prison, where she was held in solitary confinement for eleven months. At the time, Ma Su Mon was just twenty-two years old. Since her release, she has moved to Thailand, where she is pursuing a career as a journalist with Burmese-exile media groups.
That is the introduction to Ma Su Mon’s short (30 small pages) oral history of her life in Burma as part of the resistance, which was excerpted from the forthcoming Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime, edited by Maggie Lemere and Zoe West. This excerpt came to me in the most recent issue of McSweeney’s. Her story is not an easy one, and I’m in awe of the strength she showed against the government who harassed and imprisoned her. I’m happy to know that she is now in Thailand pursuing her dream, journalism, but it’s heartbreaking to know that she was forced to leave her home, her family, without a promise of ever returning again, in order to do so.
I want to be reading the full book now, but its release date is in a month or two (I found conflicting information). It’s the most recent in a series of Voice of Witness books published by McSweeney’s. I’m now interested in reading the rest in the series, but I feel particularly drawn to this topic.
I’ll end with Ma Su Mon on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s (political activist who was placed under house arrest for many years and Nobel Peace Prize winner) influence and legacy:
Auntie was the role model of our young generation and of all the party members–we call Daw Aung San Suu Kyi “Auntie.” We love her. When I became a full member of the NLD [National League for Democracy], it was because I was so impressed by Auntie. I love her work and her actions. But nowadays I try to think about what we have to do. I mean, we should not just depend on her. We have to do some work by ourselves to change our country, because all of us are just dependent on Auntie. If Auntie were not beside us, how would we do it? Our young generation should prepare for our future, to change our country. We all put everything on her shoulders, and it’s not fair for her. She’s an old woman now.
(The cover photo is of students and members of the National League for Democracy, with Ma Su Mon in the center of the bottom row.)