Zuhayr “Zui” Maung, Real Salt Lake’s Zions Bank Real Academy Marketing Coordinator, has always been proud of where his family is from. Maung’s parents both immigrated from Myanmar to the United States and settled in Utah where Zuhayr was born and raised.
“I was always raised to believe that Myanmar is home,” said Maung. “It's kind of weird because I've lived in Utah my entire life, this is home. But whenever I think of ‘home,’ it's back in Myanmar, even though I've never lived there.”
As the son of first generation immigrants, Maung experienced a very Burmese (Myanmar) upbringing in which he learned a lot of Burmese mannerisms. One of those that stood out to him looking back at his childhood was eating with your hands, an eating method very common in that part of the world.
“I don't know if I ever touched cutlery until I was well into developing my motor skills,” said Maung.
“It's a skill. It's funny when I cook for my friends, I tell them, ‘Hey, you guys have to eat with your hands. This is Indian food. We're eating with our hands.’”
“And I see that in their technique. And I think, “Oh, you didn't grow up eating like this.”
“That is probably one of the most interesting differences.”
For Maung, food is what helped him connect back with his roots in Myanmar the most. Growing up his mother would cook traditional Burmese dishes and he was astounded at how she would pack so much flavor into so few ingredients. Once he got into high school, he started to learn how to cook for himself.
“I'm still not my mom, but learning like that gave me a connection with back home,” said Maung. “Maybe I'm not doing all the things culturally they do but it’s pretty cool to have that link to back home. I think that’s what makes food my big connection with my roots.”
While his mom gave him a connection back to Myanmar through food, his father gave him a connection through soccer.
Myanmar, which was known as Burma while under British occupation, is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. Maung’s family is from Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon which is where his father grew up playing on the dirt with a bamboo ball. When Maung would go back to visit his family, he’d do exactly as his father did, playing the world’s game on the street with his cousins.
Back in Utah, one of his fondest memories would be to go over to their barbers’ house with his father and brother and watch soccer matches that he had recorded on VHS.
“Soccer has always been huge for me,” said Maung.
Maung’s father instilled a love for the game in him that’s only grown over the years. Maung played youth soccer in Salt Lake City and eventually turned it into a career at RSL. He has watched every match that he could. Now he works for the club he grew up supporting.
“It's the coolest thing ever to be able to support this club from day one and then get to work alongside people like Tony (Beltran) and Nick (Rimando) and Jordan (Allen),'' said Maung. “I cried when we won in 2009 and when we lost in 2013, and I now work with them everyday, it's nuts.”
And while Maung is now working with those he looked up to, he hopes he could be a part in helping inspire others in the AAPI community to follow him into the sports industry.
“There's not a ton of Asians that work in sports, and just because there aren’t don't write someone off just because they’ve got an Asian name,” said Maung.
“There's so few of us that work in sports and I know for a fact that Asia loves the game. My dad is a great example. He loves soccer but never felt that soccer or sports should have been a viable career opportunity. We just need visibility. We need people to know that there are AAPI people in sports, they're succeeding and you can do that too.”