By Dorany Pineda
The indigenous Rohingya people of Myanmar are described by many to be the most persecuted people in the world. Maung Nu, 32, is one of them.
A political science student at East Los Angeles College, Nu was very lucky to have received his visa to study in the United States.
“After I finish, I want to help my people, my country,” Nu said. Nu is a member of the Rohingya people from the state of Rakhine, Myanmar, formerly known as Arakan state.
The majority of the Rohingya are Muslim, and they have been fleeing the country for decades from relentless violence and persecution.
“Right now, there is a humanitarian crisis [in Myanmar],” Nu said. “People are fleeing to Bangladesh because the Burmese government is burning houses.”
Nu said that the United Nations has estimated that over 200 villages and about half a million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, most of whom are women and children.
Though that reality has fortunately not impacted his family of eight, Nu said that his childhood was anything but easy.
“My childhood was very terrible,” Nu said. “When we went to school, we had to sit separate. There was the Buddhist side and the Rohingya Muslim side. We could not sit in the front [of the classroom]; that was only for Buddhists.”
But this only happened when Nu was able to make it to school.
There were times when he couldn’t get there because the roads were blocked, and he would get beaten up by Buddhist children.
“We couldn’t complain to the police,” Nu said. “If we complained to the police, they wouldn’t take any action. We couldn’t fight back. If we fought back to a Buddhist of the same age––at the time I was between 9 and 12 years––all the Buddhist people would come to our house and they would burn down the house.”
Though Nu has dealt with discrimination and violence his entire life in Myanmar simply for being a Rohingya Muslim, he has always been careful not to call all Buddhists bad, a detail that really struck ELAC student Golden Sheard.
“Someone asked Nu why Buddhists would be attacking Muslims in that way,” Sheard said, who helped organize a talk Nu gave about the current state of the Rohingya people a few weeks ago on campus. “He didn’t say that Buddhists are bad people, he said that the practices of these people in this specific area act this way. He didn’t have a blanket belief of them. He said the problem is specific to a specific group [of Buddhists.]”
Sheard, who hasn’t known Nu for very long, also helped organize a fundraiser to send Nu to the Capital of the United States.
Once there, Nu will testify against the Burmese government to Congress in hopes of inspiring action from them.
But when he’s not writing letters to Congress or planning a trip to Bangladesh to visit the Rohingya refugee camps, Nu enjoys playing soccer, and watching the news, romance movies or documentaries.
His proudest moment, he said, was when he got his student visa to study in the U.S.
“That was the happiest day of my life,” Nu said. “I made the impossible become possible.” From having no citizenship, no money, and no safe home in Burma to successfully attaining his VISA because he believed in himself is a feat that still brings a giant smile to Nu’s face.
That drive to do the seemingly impossible is a quality that Sheard also sees in Nu.
“He found out everything that it would take for him to come study here,” Sheard said, a goal that even she recognized as difficult. “The Rohingya people don’t do anything without getting permission from the Rakhine state. Everything from marriage to education is restricted to permission.” But Nu, she said, somehow found a way to make it to the U.S. and pursue education.
And it’s an opportunity that he isn’t taking for granted.
“My dream is that I want to work for all of humanity… We have to fight for injustice everywhere, people are suffering everywhere,” Nu said. “So that is my call, to work for human rights, to work for all people.”