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Festivalizing Thingyan, Negotiating Ethnicity: Burmese Chinese Migrants in Taiwan

From: Journal of Burma Studies
Volume 12, 2008
pp. 29-62 | 10.1353/jbs.2008.0001



Cultural performances at ethnic festivals in an immigrant context are often seen to represent the ideologies of ethnic identity tied to the performers' ancestral homeland. This article examines how Burmese people of Chinese descent (hereafter Burmese Chinese) in Taiwan negotiate their ethnic identity between pan-Burmese and pan-Chinese models as exemplified in their presentation of a Burmese festival called Thingyan. The author's objective is to pinpoint some issues in the representation of diasporic ethnicity and the politics of return migration. Return migrants have returned to their ancestral homeland after having been settled in foreign countries for generations, entangling complex ethnic politics, in which the identification with a home is frequently contestable. The issues discussed touch on a range of domains, in particular the study of diaspora, performances, and cultural tourism, with a primary disciplinary orientation in ethnomusicology. The emphasis on "festivalizing" is on the festive and celebratory aspect of these events through which Burmese Chinese have successfully promoted their ethnic identity in their new home: Taiwan. By analyzing the festival's performances, this case study aims to theorize the ethnic politics of returning migrants, as well as to examine the ethnic performances at sites where identities are negotiated and shaped. These identities are indeed subject to the ever-changing representations and interpretations of groups and individuals within ethnic politics at the different levels embedded in their double diasporic experiences.

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