News / Asia

Aung San Suu Kyi Meets American Burmese

Burmese Democracy Activist Aung San Suu Kyi is promoting a message of cautious compromise on the third day of her U.S. visit.  Her day began by answering questions from the American Burmese community.

It was an unusual scene for Americans -- but traditional for Buddhists.  To see Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on the ground, revering monks who chant a blessing of love and kindness.

The activist met with the monks, who flew to the United States from Burma, and Burmese Americans from the Washington area.

These are her countrymen who watched her 19 years of house arrest from their homes in the US, where many of them fled the oppressive military regime.  Now, she is their hope for democracy.

“There’s a great future for Burma, provided she’s able to succeed in the next election,” said Burmese American Bilal Raschid.

  • Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California, October 2, 2012.
  • Burmese opposition leader speaks at the University of San Francisco after receiving an honorary doctorate degree, San Francisco, California, September 29, 2012.
  • Nobel laureate holds the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Human Rights Foundation's first San Francisco Freedom Forum in San Francisco, California, September 28, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi addresses a gathering at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 27, 2012.
  • Burmese democracy leader receives a traditional Chin shawl before speaking in Fort Wayne, Indiana, September 25, 2012.
  • An infant in the audience wears the flag of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy as the Burmese pro-democracy leader speaks in Fort Wayne, Indiana, September 25, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi receives an award from U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley (L) at Queens College in New York, September 22, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of Burma's National League for Democracy, receives a Global Citizen Award from IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde during third annual Global Citizen Awards Dinner in New York, September 21, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi signs the guest book of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations in New York, September 21, 2012.
  • Burma's opposition leader receives the National Endowment for Democracy award from Carl Gershman (L), President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during a ceremony in Washington, September 20, 2012.
  • Burma's recipients of the National Endowment for Democracy award (L-R) Aung San Suu Kyi, Khun Htun Oo, Aung Din, Dr Cynthia Maung and Kyaw Thu, during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 20, 2012.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Aung San Suu Kyi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., September 19, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi holds her Congressional Gold Medal after it was presented to her by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (2nd L), at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 19, 2012.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Senators (L-R) John Kerry (D-MA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Harry Reid (D-NV), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 19, 2012.
  • Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the Voice of America, September 18, 2012 (Neeta Maskey Torrini/VOA)
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is presented with the Global Vision Award by Asia Society trustee Tom Freston at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., September 18, 2012.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) introduces Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to speak at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., September 18, 2012.
(Click to view the photo gallery)
Some of these Burmese Americans came to this country following the pro-democracy uprisings in Burma in 1988. Others followed.  But they all share one thing.  They have never lived in their country during an election.

But now that Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament five months ago, many like Rosemary Than are thinking ahead. "When we left Burma, we thought we would always go back to retire there and I never thought the moment would come because it just seemed like such a faraway goal and at this time, this is a possibility,” Than said.

One of those In the crowd was Toe Lwin, who joined others to save Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003, when a mob attacked her convoy and tried to assassinate her.  After that he escaped to the United States.  

She was put under house arrest again.  Aung San Suu Kyi called him up to see her after the speech.

“She said she wanted me to come back Burma.  Yes, I agreed with her and I really want to go back Burma,” Lwin said.  

But many are worried the new democracy reforms are not permanent.  Aung San Suu Kyi suggested compromise.

“We need to work together with military, various groups and ethnic nationalities.  We need to be cautious but not to have doubt.  Being cautious, being fully aware is totally different from keeping doubt.  Doubt will never help us to move forward,” she said.

At another speech with Amnesty International, she focused on youth. "It’s not only a matter of making sure that political prisoners are free, you, the young have to get to the root of WHY there are political prisoners," she said.

The day ended with democracy awards for five other Burmese activists.  Of her years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi says she never thought of herself as suffering, but as following a path.  Many here thank her for paving that path toward freedom for others.

Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

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