Burmese New Year Marked in Elmhurst

  • The Burmese New Year was celebrated in Elmhurst on July 16. (All photos by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

Hundreds of Burmese living in Queens and other parts of New York celebrated Thingyan, the Burmese New Year, last Sunday, July 16, in the hall of St. James Church in Elmhurst. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), the festival is a part of New Year celebrations held in April according to the lunisolar calendar. “Traditionally, the festival is celebrated with water play,” explains Kyaw Tha Hla, the executive director and co-founder of the ThinGyan Association, with a water-filled boat called Rakhaing Laung. New York-area Burmese are celebrating the festival in July because that is when the weather is similar to the April weather in Myanmar.

New York’s Burmese New Year Water Festival was started in 1992 by the New York-based nonprofit organization ThinGyan Association. Up until last year, the association held the celebrations at the playground of P.S. 9 in Manhattan with the Rakhaing Laung, water play, a parade in traditional costumes, and Burmese food. When the playground became unavailable the festival was moved to St. James, which lacks the space for the traditional water-filled boat, water play, or the parade.

The water, aside from cooling off the summer heat, is a symbol of the flow of time, meant to wash away past sins and bring spiritual renewal with wishes for a good new beginning. Despite the lack of water, some 1,000 Burmese people, according to Kyaw Tha Hla, participated and enjoyed the music, performance, food, and Burmese conversations. The ThinGyan Association is a Burmese-American social organization whose purpose is to preserve the rich multiethnic Burmese heritage and to pass it on to their U.S.-born children and grandchildren so that they know who they are and are proud of their heritage, according to Kyaw Tha Hla.

The attendees interviewed were friendly and in good spirits, and said they were happy with the current leadership of Myanmar by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Kyaw Tha Hla elaborated on the general satisfaction with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership. “The problems will not go away overnight but we will trust and support the leader.” He continued by noting that “in this matter, we also should give a lot of credit to the Burmese military which stepped aside and gave way for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to lead our country.”

Myanmar consists of seven administrative regions with 135 ethnic groups and a population that is 89 percent Buddhist.

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