Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 17, 2011

Burmese icon Aung San Suu Kyi to speak to local alliance

Message from Nobel laureate headlines annual celebration

by Jeff Carr

The Burmese American Women's Alliance (BAWA) holds an event every year in honor of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday, known also as Women of Burma Day. This year, however, features a first: contact from Suu Kyi herself.

A personal video message from the Burmese democracy icon will be the highlight of BAWA's annual event this Saturday, June 18, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the First Congregational Church (FCCPA) of Palo Alto, located at 1985 Louis Road.

While the holiday will be celebrated by the Burmese community worldwide, Suu Kyi's message will be tailored directly to attendees in Palo Alto.

"I don't know that anybody else has that," BAWA Secretary Yasmin Vanya said.

In addition to the video message, the event will feature entertainment by Burmese-American singer Jimmy Lashio, as well as poetry readings and other cultural performances. It's the Burmese cuisine, however, including mohinga, which draws in many, and originally hooked Vanya herself.

"One morning I wanted to have mohinga, and I ended up an activist," she said.

The Burmese American Women's Alliance, founded in 1999, is a nonprofit organization with a mission to support the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. Vanya conceded that the focus is more on the country than on women's issues, and that the organization actually has members of both sexes.

Its activities are centered on raising funds and sending relief assistance to Burmese communities all over the world, as well as promoting Burmese social and cultural traditions within Burmese American communities.

The focus on Suu Kyi stems from the political side. Suu Kyi is best known as the general secretary of the National League for Democracy, which won a landslide victory in Burma's 1990 election. However, the results were not acknowledged by the ruling junta, and in the time since, she has spent 15 years under house arrest.

Facing pressure from various local and international groups, including BAWA, Suu Kyi was released in November 2010, and now spends her time encouraging activists and reaching out to junta leaders, calling for reconciliation and dialogue. According to BAWA, the junta has been unresponsive, and continues its human rights violations and oppression.

"We call on people who love peace and justice to support Burma's cause, and come out and learn about this brave lady, Aung San Suu Kyi, and celebrate with us. She is free but Burma is not," Mabel Tun, BAWA president, said.

"We want to build peace and friendships in honor of her as she symbolizes peace, nonviolent struggle and love for all people."

Vanya put it more simply: "People from Burma need more attention." Having fled her home country more than 20 years ago, following in her brother's footsteps, Vanya has returned home only once, in 2002. She fears that now, due to her activism, she is not likely to be granted a visa. She also has numerous connections to Suu Kyi and her family.

Saturday's event is free and open to the public, but donations will be accepted in order to benefit three Rangoon HIV/AIDS shelters run by Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy Social Welfare project. The event is co-sponsored by the Peace and Justice Committee of First Congregational Church and many of its partners.

More information is available at www.bawalliance.org.

Editorial Intern Jeff Carr can be emailed at editor@paweekly.com.

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