Amid shouts of "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi" - Daw being a term of respect - thousands Tuesday in the Memorial Coliseum eagerly awaited the speech by the former Burmese political prisoner.
The nonviolent peace activist Suu Kyi, 67, promoted education, especially the traditional teachings and reconciliation among Burma's many ethnicities, but warned her countrymen that the road to democracy is a long one.
"We're at the most delicate juncture; we're just at the beginning of the road," she said.
During the second week of a 17-day tour in the U.S., Suu Kyi spoke before 5,125 people at the coliseum. As she has in earlier stops, she spoke of her support for easing economic sanctions against Burma. Speaking in English but mostly in Burmese, which was slowly translated on the coliseum's scoreboard and two projector screens, she urged Burmese to teach their children about their culture, especially the Burmese language.
Fort Wayne's Burmese population, conservatively estimated at 8,000, has long been referred to as the largest group outside Burma. Those who left to escape the authoritarian government of their homeland, renamed Myanmar by the ruling junta, still refer to it as Burma. Initially, refugees came here through local relief groups, such as Catholic Charities, and later other family members followed or Burmese from other U.S. communities came here.
Burma's education system, once considered one of the best, now has collapsed, and many students can not afford it. However, shaping it on another country's system, such as the US's is not the answer, she said. "We need one that is tailored to best suit our country."
Suu Kyi spoke about politics, which requires honesty as well as intellectual ability. "In a democratic country, it is easy to pander to the media," she said. "A popular leader is not the same as a good leader."
Responding to past questions on what drove her into politics, she said she wasn't pushed, she chose it and that we all have responsibility to be a part of democracy.
Not just Burmese can help the democratic efforts in her country, she said.
"You can support us by keeping up awareness of what is happening in Burma."