Burmese-American Eyeing US Senate: ‘I Was Given This Opportunity, So I Am Taking It'

By Tin Htet Paing 20 January 2016

Joshua Chit Tun is a 29-year-old Burmese-born American, educated in the United States. His grandfather, Walter Chit Tun, was one of Burma’s pioneer body builders, a professional weightlifter and one of Burma’s earliest movie stars.

The young Chit Tun is the founder of the Student Direct Charitable Foundation and is now running as an independent candidate for the US Senate representing California, for which primary elections will be held in June 2016 and a general election in November. If elected, he will be one of the youngest senators in the United States. The Irrawaddy recently interviewed Joshua Chit Tun via email about his political beliefs, his goals and his connection with Burma.

Could you please provide us with some basic information about you and your family origins?

I was born in Burma, now known as Myanmar. My father and grandfather, if I’m not mistaken, were both born in Burma. We are an old family, which means I am generations apart from my elders. I moved to the United States when I was five, around 1991. My mother’s mother is Burmese from Shan State.

As for my father’s family, they are from Mon State. When it comes to my upbringing, I was raised by my Aunt Ni Ni Chit Tun and her husband Robert Hays. They are my legal guardians. The reason I am what I am is my aunt instilled in me the will to never give up, as a small child she told me, “you represent our family by name but if you truly are a Chit Tun, no matter where I put you, you will become the best. You can never lose and if you do, you are Chit Tun, and you must remind them at what cost their victory came at.” To say the least, I am not one to lose, and this is important to me, because I want to show the nobility of the Burmese people and at large the Asian community.

Please tell us about Student Direct Charitable Foundation and your role there?

I am the Founder of the Student Direct Charitable Foundation, and it began because I wanted to address education and introduce applied learning through multimedia, as well as get students to engage in a variety of programs that will help them become the change they want to see, and instill a culture and belief in them to help others and initiate community action. My current role there now is chairman; I oversee the managers of each division that Student Direct operates, as well as the programs we offer to the schools we work with.

Why did you decide to run for the US Senate this year?

I was given this opportunity, so I am taking it. I am not saying that it is over; I still have to win the primaries in June. I am doing this because people keep talking about change, but no one has stepped forward. I believe in that change, so that’s why I am doing it: for those who cannot, for those who do not have a voice. I am doing it because it is necessary, and I will not stop until it is done.

What are your political goals?

My goal as a politician is true power, the power to make systematic change, the power to help those who cannot help themselves, the power to preserve the environment for future generations, the power to lead others and do what is right, and the power to stand up to those who do injustice.

My plan is not just the US Senate. The goal for me is to sit on as many US Senate committees as I can.

What are your thoughts on Burma’s current political situation?

This is a sign of goodwill, the change that we are all witnessing. However I question its true intent, I believe there is a lot more to take place before the people of Burma truly have a future. I also have been made aware of some of the basic problems and needs of our people. The problem with career politicians is they forget the people.

Another thing I want to note is that as Burma opens up it represents tremendous opportunities for Western nations. The people of Burma should be conscious of that and what their intentions could be. In many ways capitalism is another form of subjugation. Don’t misunderstand me, growth and innovation are needed—but be careful who you trust because there is a reason why this is all taking place.

My final thought is that I do not put too much faith in the Lady, and I say this not to upset anyone, but to open their eyes, and ask hasn’t she done enough? I mean she seems quite old to me now, and I mean no disrespect by that, but at some point she needs to live a life. Also, I want to see more political parties in Burma, then to me it is on the path of Democracy. I just want to see the people be liberated and to have opportunities, but at the same time value traditions and the rich heritage of their country and to protect it from Westerners. I want to see people with new ideas, open minds, that will work hard. I truly believe the answers are with next generation leaders and until I see that, I will remain a skeptic.

What do you think about US policy toward Burma?

I can say this, when it comes to China, it is absolutely necessary that we have good relations with Burma. Being that I am aware of this, and that I am afraid of western culture when it comes to foreign policies, it is very important that I become a US Senator. I have this need to protect Burma, the country of my birth. I trust myself, but I can’t say the same for career politicians when it comes to foreign policy.

Do you feel any connection to Burma? If so, how so?

I do feel a strong connection. No matter where I go in my life, I will always be Burmese, and being that my grandfather left with so much undone—he died unexpectedly—I feel that as a Chit Tun and one with my knowledge, aptitude, and everything that I have at my disposal, I cannot forget the Burmese people who are a noble race. I have an obligation and a sense of duty to the Burmese people, and to the growing Asian community.

I also want to have children who are Burmese. I’m not sure how to make sense of that, but I think I am starting to understand where I belong.