Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will speak to thousands of expatriates this morning at Memorial Coliseum. But she can expect a multicultural show of support from Fort Wayne.
Although the city has among the largest Burmese communities in the nation, it will be a diverse crowd that packs the Coliseum for Suu Kyi’s appearance at 9 a.m.
Hundreds of Hispanic residents plan to be there, Max Montesino said Monday on WBOI-FM’s Midday Matters and in an interview with The Journal Gazette.
Suu Kyi is famous for resistance to dictators, to oppression. We can relate to that very easily in the Latino community, said Montesino, president of the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana and a member of the board of the Fort Wayne Multicultural Council.
We’ve been making a lot of efforts at working with the Burmese community in Fort Wayne and vice versa, he said.
About 800 students from Fort Wayne Community Schools will be at Suu Kyi’s speech. They are a pretty good mix of nationalities and ethnic groups, said Krista Stockman, district spokeswoman.
The executive director of the city’s Burmese Advocacy Center is not surprised by the widespread interest in Suu Kyi, a political prisoner for most of the past two decades in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma.
She is an icon for every nation, Minn Myint Nan Tin said.
Suu Kyi, 67, was scheduled to arrive in town Monday evening and stay at a hotel ahead of today’s public appearance. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke Monday morning at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
She made visits last week to New York and Washington, D.C., where she met with President Obama and was honored by Congress.
Suu Kyi – elected to Myanmar’s parliament in April as military rulers have gradually yielded to democratic reforms – is also scheduled to go to San Francisco and Los Angeles during her 17-day U.S. trip.
Anticipation of her Coliseum appearance has run high in Fort Wayne, home to about 4,000 Burmese dissidents, refugees and immigrants. A Sunday showing of the documentary They Call it Myanmar filled the 121-seat downtown Cinema Center. Jonah Crismore, the nonprofit theater’s executive director, said at least 30 people were turned away.
It was a very diverse crowd, said Crismore, adding that Cinema Center hopes to arrange another screening of the film.
For all of Fort Wayne
Suu Kyi is expected to give most, if not all, of her remarks today in the Burmese language. Sponsors of her visit said they successfully tested their English-translation system Monday.
Originally, the translation was to have been done at the studios of WFWA PBS 39, which will provide a live broadcast of Suu Kyi’s appearance.
Instead, IUPUI linguist Aye-Nu Duerksen, who has met Suu Kyi previously, will be in the Coliseum and translate by telephone to a Boston stenographer who will transmit the text to WFWA to caption for the Coliseum and TV audiences.
Among those expected to attend Suu Kyi’s speech and question-and-answer session are Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.; Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd; Mayor Tom Henry; and interim Purdue University President Tim Sands.
Local resident U Tun Oo said last week that as many as 5,000 Burmese from around the Midwest will be at today’s program. Nan Tin, of the Burmese Advocacy Center, said many had arrived by Monday afternoon, and some had come from Canada.
The Coliseum can seat about 10,000 for Suu Kyi’s speech.
George McClellan, vice chancellor for student affairs at IPFW, one of the sponsors of Suu Kyi’s visit, said Burmese organizers have stressed continuously that Suu Kyi’s visit is for all of Fort Wayne, not just her countrymen.
They feel connected, they feel supported, they feel respected in Fort Wayne, McClellan said. That just speaks volumes about this city and the kind of people that live in this city.