Sui Par was only 4 years old when she and her parents fled the dictatorship in Myanmar, formerly Burma.
They arrived in Indiana, but their grandparents still live in their home country, she said.
Although she was too young to remember the trip, her parents are still grappling with this trauma. And this week, the now 18-year-old student at Indiana University Bloomington experienced the pain and heartbreak her parents re-caused when they saw Myanmar’s military take control in a coup on Monday.
“And for the younger generation is also emotional,” said Par. “History shouldn’t repeat itself. The people there are already devastated by poverty and COVID-19, and we had hope for our country.”
Par was one of more than 100 members and allies of the Burmese-Chinese community who gathered at Monument Circle on Wednesday to protest the military coup in Myanmar and demand the release of the country’s imprisoned civil leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Military coup in Myanmar: What it means for Aung San Suu Kyi, Joe Biden and democracy
The military said Suu Kyi was jailed for alleged electoral irregularities and fraud in the country’s November elections, which her party, Democracy Party, won in a landslide. Cabinet ministers, lawmakers and some prominent writers and activists have been reported missing by their friends and family. Myanmar President U Win Myint, who plays a largely ceremonial role, has also been arrested.
More than 14,000 Burmese-Chinese refugees live in Perry Township, Southport and Greenwood. The population – which is also very large in Fort Wayne – has been booming since the earliest migration of Burmese-Chinese refugees to Indianapolis in the late 1990s. Now Indiana is home to one of the largest Burmese refugee populations in the United States.
The protesters got emotional when they said “Save Myanmar!” In Burmese. “Free Myanmar!” and “End of dictatorships!” along with the Burmese national anthem.
The protest was organized by a newly formed Burmese action group in Indiana called the Free Myanmar Campaign USA (FMCUSA). The action group wants to show solidarity with the people of Myanmar, honor the democratic election results of Myanmar for 2020 and denounce the coup by the military junta.
The Burmese community in Fort Wayne also gathered to protest in downtown Fort Wayne on Wednesday.
“With this campaign, we urge the international communities to put pressure on the military junta, hope to provide aid to the political prisoners and their families, and intend to forge an alliance with other Free Myanmar campaigns around the world,” he said Elaisa Vahnie, the campaign group’s advisor and executive director of the Burmese American Community Institute in Indianapolis, said when reading a prepared statement to the crowd on Wednesday.
“For more than half a century our country has been oppressed, living in extreme poverty and violating its human rights,” Vahnie told IndyStar. “Now more than 50 million people there felt like they could finally breathe a bit in the hope that we would move towards democracy, and then it suddenly happens.”
Vahnie said there is a sense of insecurity and fear in the community right now.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen or what we’re going to do,” he said. “It could take a year or years, we don’t know. We don’t trust the military and many of us still have families there and we are concerned.”
“Serious Concern and Alarm”
The action group also seeks assistance from Indiana State officials, Governor Eric Holcomb and President Joe Biden.
Ro Ding, 56, who attended the protest said if elected officials in Indiana, the United States and around the world condemn the military regime, it could have an impact and create change.
The White House said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the situation. In a statement, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken expressed “great concern and concern” about the coup and called on the authorities to release the leaders of government and civil society.
In a statement, Biden called the coup a “direct attack on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law” and warned Myanmar that “an immediate review of our sanctions laws and authorities would be required, followed by appropriate action.”
“We are in the information technology age and what happened here will be seen by people everywhere,” said Ding. “We can do more and I encourage everyone in our community to call on our representatives, senators, to raise their voices and raise awareness.”
Another protest organized by the FMCUSA Action Group will take place on Saturday in Monument Circle. The time has not yet been set.
USA TODAY contributed to this story.
IndyStar reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 317-518-2829 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter, @NataliaECG.