It has been 24 years since Myo Myint met Aung San Suu Kyi. Shortly after that he was imprisoned on July 7, 1989. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest July 19, 1989.
Tuesday morning, the horror of Burma in August of 1988 hung in the minds of many who attended the address and question and answer session from Burmese democracy party leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi at Memorial Coliseum.
About 5,125 people gathered, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Toronto, to see and hear the Burmese leader.
Myo Myint, known for his story in the documentary film "Burma Soldier," released by HBO in 2011, was one of many local Burmese who struggled against the Burmese military government in the late 1980s and eventually found asylum in the United States, relocating to Fort Wayne, which has the largest resettlement population of Burmese in the U.S. Recent rstimates put the population between 6,000 and 8,000.
For Myo Myint, seeing Suu Kyi again gave him a feeling of reconnection, even if it was merely to wave at her from across the arena. Afterward he couldn't stop smiling. He said it wasn't that she said anything he hadn't expected; it was just the wonder and joy of seeing her again.
Aung Myint Htun, who was a freedom fighter for the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (NDL) said he was so excited to see Suu Kyi and hear her speak that he had goose bumps. He was pleased to see so many different parts of the Burmese ethnic community come together to make the visit happen.
For his teenage daughter, Pye Pye Aung, it was her first chance to see and hear the leader in person. She has grown up on her father's stories of Suu Kyi. Tuesday was an opportunity for her to see and hear for herself. Smiling, she said afterward that she was not disappointed.
Up near the top of the coliseum, four young Burmese teenagers, juniors at Perry-Meridian High School in Indianapolis, said they were excited to see her, but two of them had been in the country long enough that they couldn't understand her Burmese. The four agreed they would like to at least go back to Burma to visit, and they were impressed by her message. Their school's ESL teacher, Ed Deitz, said about 700 Burmese are in their school district, and Tuesday they were able to bring 150 of them to see Suu Kyi.
Ahtar, 48, who was on the floor photographing the leader, was a student organizer in Burma when she was 17. When the Burmese government cracked down Aug. 8, 1988, she joined the opposition, trained as a fighter and for three years fought on the front lines against the Burmese army. Eventually she took refuge in Thailand and then came to the U.S. as a political refugee. Ahtar traveled from Washington, D.C., to hear Suu Kyi speak. She was thrilled at the opportunity to once again hear her speak in public, even if it was halfway around the world from where she had fought for democracy.
Mingled in the crowd with the Burmese were members of the community from all walks of life.
“It's just a great thing to see how much everyone is excited to have a leader who is fighting for freedom coming here to share her experiences,” said Dr. Saneta Maiko, the founder and executive director of Crime Victim Care of Allen County.
Maiko works with refugees in the community at his nonprofit organization, some from the Burmese community.
Tucked into a row halfway back from the front was Kirsten Eckert, a Fort Wayne Unitarian Church member.
“I find it so wonderful to be in the presence of different cultures, all the diversity that is being shown here and the fact that this women holds peace. That is what is needed in the world right now,” Eckert said.