Updated: Mar 2, 2021
I remember as a young boy, sitting in restaurants and neighborhood tea shops, hearing “shh...” amongst the voices of conversations and the clinking chaos of spoons and ceramic cups. When a police or a soldier’s presence was detected, people would stop talking and try to ignore these men in uniforms. One can’t help but be intimidated by them.
This was nothing new to me. Ever since I was old enough to understand, my parents told me about their past tales of the great 1988 uprising by students that they took part in. What can only be described as a scene of bloodshed and abuse of power by the ones who held the bullets and guns, was one that they will never forget.
But they would always remind me to never speak of this in public places because “you never know who’s listening.” I never understood what my parents were so scared about, but I soon too felt my heart drop to my feet two weeks ago on February 1st, 2021 when I saw headlines of a military coup in Myanmar at 4:00 pm New York time, while my parents were fast asleep back home.
I am from Yangon, a city that once was a capital of Myanmar but now stands proud as the business capital where many from all over the country flock to for a better life. The New York City of Myanmar if you will. Even though I am a part of the Generation-Z and grew up in the technological age, I did not necessarily grow up with the internet. YouTube and Facebook were like mythical websites that no one had access to unless you knew your way around the web and understood what VPNs were. Even when going onto Google to search up an image for a school assignment, it would take me hours to load a file. Then in 2011 for the first time, the internet finally became open for the country and we then had access to the information that the whole world already knew about. But before, this was normal for us. It was okay that we would leave our computer open for days to download a single Hollywood movie that we wanted to watch from torrent sites. It was okay that we didn’t have international channels on our TVs. It was okay that everyone hushed down when a policeman walked by on the street. But then in 2007, it was no longer okay. It was no longer okay when the most revered monks in the country with the highest Buddhist population in the world, took the streets and marched with prayers and hopes for Democracy.
“Democracy” was a word I was unfamiliar with at that time. It was a word that held so much meaning and power, and I knew it was for the better and that so many people yearned for it. But it was also a word that was unspoken and never to be talked about. The “shh...” sounds I heard in the tea shops and market places usually resonated after I would hear the faint whispers of “democracy” and “Amay Suu.” Who is “Amay Suu” you ask? She is the revolutionary democratic leader of the Burmese people, who also happens to be the daughter of our father of independence who broke us from the British colonial rule. Her name is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and we call her “Amay Suu” for short, which means “Mother Suu” for she is the mother of the nation, who stood up for her people and our democratic rights when the military did anything but that. When the headline “Myanmar coup: Aung San Suu Kyi detained as military seizes control” by BBC popped up on my Facebook timeline, I could not believe my own two eyes. Shocked and stunned, I immediately began to text and call all my friends, only to find out that this really was the reality. Flashbacks of fear and corruption ran through my mind as I frantically tried calling my parents and any family member I could. Being that it was only 5:00 am Yangon time, no one picked up, which only added to my anxiety. What if we were going back to a time without internet and telecommunication? What if I couldn’t say “I love you” to my parents one last time?
In school, I learned of soldiers protecting civilians and in movies I saw how much admiration and respect nations had for their guards. So, why was I afraid of the person who’s protecting me? If you’ve seen videos and photos of what has happened during previous military coups in my country, and what is also currently happening now, you would know exactly why. We do not want to go back to a time when Myanmar disappeared from the map, and we definitely do not want to go back to our days of fear, so immediately protests broke out all over the country since Day 1. Children, adults, grandparents, and even dogs took the streets, marching in unison, holding signs that read “We Want Democracy” and “Free Our Leader.” As the numbers grew, so did the military’s fear. They saw how united and angry we were, so just like the cowards they were, began to abuse their power and weapons they held. No matter how violent or force they use, the people of Myanmar returned it with love and protested peacefully. Burmese citizens like me from all over the world have also been using our privilege of safety and having the internet to voice the people of Myanmar when they are being silenced. With the age of the internet, young people began to work because this was all too familiar for us. Gen-Z’s started making headlines as various memes, artworks, poster ideas, and videos spread to bring awareness to the world. Creativity bloomed and so did the attention on us. What started off as a video of an aerobics instructor exercising while military trucks drove in the background, lead to the beating of pots and pans to “drive the evil away” at 8:00 pm daily according to old Burmese traditions. The 3 finger salute was also adopted from the movie series “Hunger Games,” as a sign of protest against the oppressive government.
Everyday, journalists, politicians, celebrities, writers, comedians, and anyone who dare join the revolution are being kidnapped and taken away in the middle of the night. 23,000 prisoners charged with rape, assault, and murders have been released by the dictator onto the streets to create chaos. Young children in poverty were given money, injected with drugs, and given gasoline and matches to burn houses down. This is all for them to have a reasoning behind the coup, but the world knows it, and we know it. The more they use their cowardly tactics, the more creative we get in our ways to protest, and the louder we will bang our pots for the whole world to hear.