Myanmar (Burma) - United States
Myanmar (Burma), 1990s
This is a Burmese men’s blue, silk sarong adorned with small white flowers and vertical stripes. Sarongs are made by sewing one end of a piece of fabric together to form a tube which one steps into and folds to wear.
In 2008, hundreds of Burmese refugees began resettling in the United States. By 2017, roughly one in four US-bound refugees came from Burma. Many ethnic minority groups like the Karen and Rohingya were driven out of the country due to ethnic and religious persecution.
Guest speaker Imran Mohammad Fazal Hoque, a Rohingyan refugee from the Rakhine state, shared his experience with our class of fleeing with only the shirt and sarong he wore.
The sarong exemplifies Burmese everyday life. Culturally, it’s worn as activewear, casualwear, and formalwear. Recently it’s grown popular in Western fashion. Tourists buy personally-tailored sarongs for less than $5 and travel vloggers showcase sarong purchases.
Such consumerist attitudes contrast the lived reality of refugees fleeing in sarongs. This dichotomy emphasizes the hidden narrative of oppression underlying dominant fashion discourse. It’s important to reflect on who wears sarongs and in what situations besides consumerism they’re found so as to empower the unheard and unseen.
By George Carlson, Lan Vy Mai, Ben Orr, and Gabrielle Watson