Aung San Suu Kyi inspired cheers, chants and countless photographs during her public appearance Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum.
Many of the estimated 5,000 spectators were refugees and immigrants who fled Myanmar, formerly called Burma, and the military regime that had kept democracy activist Suu Kyi on house arrest for most of the past two decades.
“We did not think that you have separated from us because you have become citizens of another country,” Suu Kyi told her adoring audience. “We know that you are still connected to us and still part of our country.”
The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was elected to Myanmar’s parliament in April, delivered large portions of her remarks in the Burmese language.
“It’s a very happy day for all these people,” Myint Naing, a member of the Suu Kyi welcoming committee, said about the local Burmese population, among the largest in the United States.
Suu Kyi “put the Fort Wayne Burmese community on the map, and she really inspired them to fight for democracy for their country,” said Aye Aye, a 16-year-old girl who translated for local Burmese women Ma Htwe and Aye Khaing.
Suu Kyi called for equal rights for her nation’s ethnic groups, better education and justice systems and constitutional amendments that stress the rule of law.
She also has appeared in New York, Washington, D.C., and Louisville, Ky., during a 17-day trip to the United States.