December 20, 2017
From Coconuts Yangon


Model who defended ethnic cleansing now appropriates culture for company accused of poisoning babies

Remember that beauty queen who was disqualified from an international beauty pageant days after posting a video that defended the Myanmar military’s operations in Rakhine State?
        Fortunately (for her), she still has a career. Unfortunately (for everyone else), that career involves appropriating Native American culture to make money for a cement company that has been accused of stealing land and poisoning children in central Myanmar.
        In an Instagram photo she posted yesterday, model Shwe Eain Si appears in cartoonish interpretation of Native American dress beside an oiled-up man in a feathered war bonnet. The photo is an advertisement for the cement company Apache – a subsidiary of the massive Shwe Taung conglomerate.
        Dust and debris from an Apache factory in Mandalay Region have been blamed for a slew of outbreaks of skin ailments in children in a nearby village. Shwe Taung has also been accused of stealing locals’ land without paying compensation.
        In addition to representing a company that’s allegedly ruining people’s lives, Shwe Eain Si and her male companion also demonstrate that they support a system of colonial oppression that destroyed an entire civilization.
        Of course, not everyone sees the exploitation of oppressed people’s cultures as a big deal, which is why it still needs pointing out. Shwe Eain Si’s outfit and Apache’s logo reduce an ethnic group’s culture and history to a stereotype, ignore the real cultural significance of those items, and seek to derive profit from the oppression of native peoples.
        It’s at least as bad as wearing blackface.

Shwe Eain Si, the savior

Shwe Eain Si has demonstrated her tone-deafness to human suffering before. For instance, she’s a huge fan of the Myanmar military.
        She also posted a cringey video on Sept. 18 documenting her visit to a refugee camp in which her main message to people who have been displaced by war is: “Nothing is impossible.”
        The video was part of her campaign to win the Miss Grand International pageant, from which she was soon to be disqualified.
        On Sept. 24, she released another video that characterized Myanmar’s brutal crackdown against the Rohingya as a resistance struggle against a global Islamist-expansionist movement.
        “The attacks of the caliphate style movement carried out in last month by ARSA… are already out of proportion, but it is even more unfortunate that they, and their powerful supporters behind them, have administered a more or less successful media campaign, so that harbingers of terror and violence themselves are now seemed as if they are the oppressed,” she says in the video.
        She doesn’t mention the over 500,000 Rohingya who had been displaced from the country by that time or allegations of murder, rape, or arson. In the months since her video came out, the number of displaced Rohingya has risen to about 650,000, and investigations have revealed that Myanmar troops have killed at least 6,700 Rohingya, including 730 children. The US has characterized the campaign as ethnic cleansing, and the UN human rights chief has said Myanmar may be guilty of genocide.
        Within days of her video’s release, Shwe Eain Si was abruptly disqualified from the Miss Grand International pageant in Vietnam, just days before she was scheduled to arrive. However, the Miss Universe Myanmar Organization insisted that her disqualification was the result of other bad behavior and unrelated to the video.


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