In March 1962 my family were having breakfast in their house in Yangon, Myanmar, when a tank rolled down the road “and turned its gun slowly towards them” says Philip Delves Broughton in the FT. A socialist military coup had begun. The household servants emerged from the garden and kitchen, sat down at the table and began helping themselves to food. My family’s businesses were nationalised and their homes were seized.
Six years later my grandparents and their children left the country, first for Bangladesh, where I was born, then for Washington DC. My uncle thrived: he liked “big American cars and Hank Williams and Elvis”, and “loved America in the way only immigrants can”. Working as an investigator for the US Senate, he took on mining companies in West Virginia – “a pigeon-toed Burmese warrior for the benighted Appalachians”.
But my grandmother, who had run her own film production company in Myanmar, felt “lost and demeaned”. Even as a six-year-old, sitting on the floor of her shop, where she sold “hippie versions of Asian clothing”, I could tell. Others in the family would “dress for the West by day”, then become Burmese again back home. Over time, “an exile that seemed temporary and pragmatic at first hardened into an unwanted permanence”. Myanmar’s sad, violent history has ensured that.
Read the full piece here (paywall).