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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
People wait Tuesday morning outside Memorial Coliseum for the doors to open to hear Suu Kyi speak.

Appeal of message ageless

Young and old find inspiration in leader’s visit

Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Thomas Maung, 6, takes video with his cellphone as Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks Tuesday morning at Memorial Coliseum.

If there’s a generation gap among Fort Wayne’s Burmese residents, it didn’t get through the Memorial Coliseum doors Tuesday morning.

The public appearance by Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, 67, attracted an all-ages audience. Toddlers were about the only people in the arena not intent on witnessing Suu Kyi’s short speech and lengthy question-and-answer session.

The ages ranged from 3 to 61 in a single row on the Coliseum floor, where a dozen people watched and listened to Suu Kyi.

“I’m very proud, very happy today,” said Than Zaw, 48.

He said he was part of the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations led by Suu Kyi against Burma’s military-run government. The 8888 Uprising – named for the date, month and year it began – would make a political prisoner out of Suu Kyi and a rebel fighter out of Than Zaw.

He shrugged when asked about the dangers of resisting military rulers.

“No problem. Not afraid,” he said.

The reason: “I wanted democracy,” said Than Zaw, who, like others at the Coliseum, wore a T-shirt supporting the All Burma Students Democratic Front.

Than Zaw came to America in 1999 and to Fort Wayne on July 7, 2000. Like others interviewed, he knows his arrival date by heart.

Farther down the same row of chairs sat Farida Moeaye, 22. Like many others in the crowd, she wore a red, rectangular sticker on her face displaying a white star and a yellow peacock. It is the emblem of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

The business management student at IPFW has never been to Burma but hopes to visit the nation in 2014. She grew up in a Burmese village in Thailand before relocating to Fort Wayne on July 21, 2005. She knows about and appreciates Suu Kyi’s struggles and accomplishments.

“All the parents talk about how she’s helping people in Burma, that she’s the leader of Burma. We never thought she was going to come to Fort Wayne,” she said.

Farida Moeaye sat next to a family friend, Khin Nwe, 61. Khin Nwe sold medicine in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, before moving to America on June 6, 2004. She said she had seen and heard Suu Kyi speak once before, in 1996 in what was then Rangoon, during a four-year stretch when Suu Kyi avoided house arrest.

Khin Nwe said each of Suu Kyi’s speeches carried the same message: “Democracy.”