No Business

Our interactions with art, especially process and concept, are often fleeting. In a world where what we see and experience is driven by want and immediacy, No Business Magazine encourages readers to slow down while exploring stories of artists and art-making.

Issue 1: Identity
Issue 2: Power Colors

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Interview with Daniel Mung
Photographs by Daniel Mung

In the current landscape where “assimilation” in regards tominority communities is misconstrued by certain groups as a singular American culture, it’s been enlightening to see howthe Zomi community is establishing a sense of place for itspeople. Seattle-based photographer Daniel Mung spent six months in Tulsa with this refugee community, capturing moments from their everyday lives.
Daniel Mung finds his ancestral roots in the now largely displaced population of the Zomi people. Mung’s family built their home in northeast India, with minimal links to their Burmese Zomi heritage. He attended school and worked across the Indian subcontinent, absorbing the diversity of the cities he lived in. “I didn’t speak the [Zomi] language, but grew to learn it. I didn’t have friends from my community while growing up, so this [project] was a weird way to be reintroduced to the culture,” he said.

The Zomi people originally inhabited western parts of Burma (Chin State, Myanmar), but after an ethnic strife they emigrated to India, Malaysia and Thailand. Many were driven out of Myanmar because of their ethnic minority identity and culture — mostly Christian, with a different language and cultural practice from the Burmese majority. In 2007, there was a large influx of Burmese Zomi people to the US under a UNHRC rehabilitation program, with majority of them settling in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Zomi population in Tulsa is now around 6,000 strong, making it the largest Zomi community in America.

Mung began his photo journey capturing the diverse small communities in India while working for an international aid agency. After working for several years, he enrolled for the masters program in photojournalism at The University of Missouri. For his thesis, he lived in ‘Zomi Town’ Tulsa for half a year, which resulted in his photo series — Land of Milk and Honey

“It’s been quite a journey for me. And, this seemed like a story only I could tell.”

With strong cultural ties to Christianity, the Zomi have established 15 churches for theircommunity in Tulsa. “These churches have been a place of catharsis and emotional release for the Zomi people [after all they have struggled through],” said Daniel Mung. They are also places for Zomi children to learn their language and history.

June 28, 2018: Cing Tawi Lun, 5, kisses her one-year-old brother Nang Lian Khai, before going to sleep. Thang Khan Kim, 3, plays with toys before sleeping in his section of the family bed surrounded by red pillows. In a lot of Zomi houses, one can find colorfulfloral-patterned bedcovers ordered from India and Myanmar.

September 9, 2018: Thang Za Cing lies down during the worship service at Full Life Gospel Church, Tulsa. “Singing and dancing in church is medicinal for me. Both spirituallyand physically. It gives me the strength to forgive others and pray for them,” said Cing.

July 18, 2018: Zomi dialect material at a summer class in Myanmar Zomi Baptist Convention.The church started teaching “Zo lai” since the summer of 2008. Majority of the Zomi churches teach second-generation children how to read, speak and write in Zomi dialect during summer breaks.

The first group of Burmese Zomi asylum-seekers moved to Tulsa as theology students at the Oral Roberts University. Aside from being able to freely practice their religion and culture, Tulsa became an easy destination for Zomi refugees because of a lower cost of living and fair employment opportunities.

Land of Milk and Honey is a testament to the resilience of the Burmese Zomi people in the face of global migration and the strong kinship they share within the community. The project examines the Zomi diaspora as a multifaceted people with everyday longings, concerns, joy and nostalgia for the past. It celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit, rituals and faith of the Zomis in Tulsa.

Daniel Mung is a documentary photographer based in Seattle, WA.