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Why Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is coming to the Midwest

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From our archives: Find out more about Burma at

Peace leader to speak
What: Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks
When: 9-10:30 a.m. Sept. 25
Where: Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave.
Cost: Free, but parking costs apply

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 12:08 pm

Editor's note: Kyaw T. Soe learned after writing this that he is scheduled to meet Aung San Suu Kyi onstage during her speech at the Memorial Coliseum.

The Lady, the democracy icon, the world famous prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize winner, the mother, the Burmese parliament member, the founding father of Burma will come to Fort Wayne on Sept. 25 and deliver a speech to thousands of people. For Burmese, and the surrounding area, it will be like the Million Man March event.

Even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivers thousands of speeches in Burma, the event will be her first speech to the thousands of Burmese who live in Fort Wayne, most of whom have never met her before.

Naw Han Thein, a 42-year-old housewife, said in a radio broadcast, “ We have never done anything for her. For Aung San Suu Kyi, I can do anything. When I talk about her, I want to cry. She is a Burmese woman leader and I have never seen a Burmese woman leader in my lifetime.” (May 6, 2011)

The question is why is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi coming to the Midwest? Did Hillary Clinton, secretary of the state, invite her to come to Fort Wayne? What is the benefit of her visit? Can she make a difference for the Burmese people who live in Fort Wayne? Is she raising awareness of Burma? Or is she trying to reach out to the Burmese of Fort Wayne because it has the largest Burmese population? Or does she want to meet the new generation of Burmese children?

She does not receive any pay or compensation for her speech. She isn't selling a book. She isn't campaigning yet for the 2015 Burmese election. She has no relatives in Fort Wayne or the Midwest.

I believe she will talk about the following issues when she is here. I have been following Aung San Suu Kyi for many years and have selected passages from speeches she has made in the past year when she talks to the Burmese overseas who have left Burma.

She will praise the people who helped the Burmese immigrants. She will thank Fort Wayne for its hospitality in hosting the largest immigrant resettlement in two decades. She will welcome them and invite them to Burma when things are better. (June 19, 2011 video message to IPFW)

She will bring “hope” for the Burmese children. She will ask Burmese children to take advantage of the opportunities they now have like the opportunity of an American education. To work hard at school and keep the Burmese culture & custom, etc. She will encourage the young children who have struggled. She will lay the bridge for Burmese children to go back to Burma, rebuild the country and sustain the democratic change.

She will tell the children, as she did in a radio broadcast, “ I want you to understand that it does not matter what your background is or how you have gotten to the United States, you must value and cherish your Burmese culture and tradition. It will make the best of you. Remember, you can't neglect your own heritage and roots.” (Jan. 21, 2011)

Finally, she will ask the Burmese immigrants, especially the young Burmese, to understand the importance of, and to follow the rule of the law.

She will say to the Burmese women that, “Our women from Burma who struggle for their livelihoods have special qualities, because they have a belief in that special quality, enabling them to leave home and try to survive in another country. While you have to struggle daily with your lives, I want you to also be able to keep in mind the long-term objectives. Do not lose sight of your long-term objective, which is to return to our country and work not only for our country but also work for the world. (March 13, 2011 International Women's Day message)

For the parents, you have to teach your children to open their hearts and to deeply understand the two different cultures they live within; both equally meaningful for them. I would like to encourage Burmese parents to raise and to cultivate your sons/daughters, to become a valuable asset and a productive citizen for not only one country but for all human beings around the world. (Jan. 21, 2011 radio broadcast)

She will honor the people who help Burmese matter and struggle and fight for free Burma. I was one of the fighters for her struggle. I was one of the organizers for candlelight vigil events when she was sick, road-blocked by the regime. I called and organized demonstrations when she was on a hunger strike, did a petition drive to the United Nations and the United States president for her immediate release when she was on house arrest. To raise awareness of her cause and to honor her name I held annual Aung San Suu Kyi literacy fair events at IPFW. We sent hundreds of birthday cards to her and I wrote a children's book about her and delivered it to local schools and local libraries to make sure our children would know her and be proud of her. I visited the local schools and read “The Lady in Waiting Book” to Burmese children.

I wrote editorial articles to university and local newspapers. All the things I did for her are because I hope to see her one day. I was very happy for her when she won the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope my dream of meeting her will come true on Sept 25. We are all so lucky to see her in our lifetime. I have been worried about her since I met her in 1988 at her home. At that time, I was student leader for National Independent Democratic Front (NIDF). Since I ran from Burma, I organized from Thailand.

During the 2011 Aung San Suu Kyi Literacy Fair, a sixth-grader wrote her the following message:

“We see Aung San Suu Kyi's video message. We are proud of her. I also want to help people like her. She said do not forget the Burmese. I want to meet her in person one time,” Khint Min Soe said, referring to a radio address from June 19, 2011.

On Sept 25, Aung San Suu Kyi will speak Burmese to the audience and the benefit will be priceless for the Burmese. They will all understand the message because it is in their own language.

Her visit will not only benefit the future of her National League for Democracy party, but hopefully improve the relationship between the United States and Burma. It will also impact the current Burmese government that includes both the Burmese military and Burmese politicians. Burmese citizens will also be proud to say they are Burmese and that Aung San Suu Kyi is their leader.

Burmese school-age children can be proud to say they are Burmese now. Burma will get the credit of her visit and she will have the opportunity for reconciliation with the overseas Burmese ethnic minority groups. She will also recruit and motivate the Burmese who were active as a democratic force in the past. These are the reasons of why she comes to the Midwest.

Kyaw T. Soe is a Burmese political refugee and program director at IPFW's New Immigrant Literacy Program. This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Send comments to or 461-8354.