One of the world's leading symbols of peaceful resistance to political repression is making a historic visit this weekend to a region that has long bolstered her campaign in words and deeds.
The nation's largest community of Burmese immigrants and Bay Area high-tech leaders have each prepared special welcomes for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
For decades their bumper-sticker plea to "Free Burma" from the clutches of dictatorship seemed a valiant but hopeless fight, but this weekend the Bay Area's Burmese-Americans finally get to welcome the elegant, persistent embodiment of their cause.
"It's like a dream come true for us," said Wai Phyo, an engineer from Santa Clara helping to organize the democracy activist's visit. "She's our dream leader. Three years ago, we couldn't have imagined that she would be in the Bay Area, face to face."
Suu Kyi's arrival in San Francisco comes midway through her first United States visit since 1971 and on the heels of a Wednesday announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the United States will ease its ban on imports from Myanmar amid signs the country is moving toward greater democracy. The U.S. economic sanctions date from the late 1990s, not long after Berkeley became the first American city to boycott Myanmar business; Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, Oakland, San Francisco and other liberal governments followed suit.
A political prisoner-turned-parliamentarian, Suu Kyi is
In a truly Bay Area welcome, Silicon Valley tech billionaires are bankrolling their first San Francisco Freedom Forum, a summit of global dissidents who will greet the 67-year-old human rights activist when she lands here Friday.
Funded by a group including venture capitalist Peter Thiel, biologist Anne Wojcicki and her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, the forum is modeled after a similar event in Oslo. It brings together democracy advocates to share ideas and inspiration and will award Suu Kyi with a Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, named after the late Czech playwright and political leader.
Suu Kyi, an Oxford-educated opposition leader, known by many supporters simply as The Lady, will pick up the award Friday night while mingling with medical marijuana proponents, a Saudi feminist icon and the spokesman of jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot, a group that Suu Kyi, without mentioning by name, recently said should be able to "sing what they want to sing."
Her bigger welcome comes Saturday at the University of San Francisco, when she addresses an adoring crowd of nearly 5,000 people, most of them from the local Burmese community. The Bay Area is home to more than 8,500 Burmese-Americans, according to the census, and is also a hub of exiled Burmese activists, artists, ethnic minority refugees and Buddhist monks.
Suu Kyi's transition from 15 years of house arrest to an elected seat in the Myanmar Parliament has been viewed worldwide as a sign of the country's democratic opening and the waning of its military junta, but some in the Bay Area are privately pressuring her to speak more forcefully on behalf of the country's ethnic minorities amid rising tensions.
One of her sharpest critics is UC Berkeley scholar Min Zin, a one-time Burmese student dissident during the 1988 democratic uprising that shepherded Suu Kyi's rise to global prominence.
"Even Aung San Suu Kyi, a symbol of morality in the world at large, is silent on the racist nature of this discrimination and violence, instead treating it as an issue of the rule of law," he wrote in Foreign Policy this summer, speaking of growing violence against the Muslim Rohingya population.
The Burmese immigrants greeting Suu Kyi on Saturday are a diverse group who say they have faith in her inclusive leadership.
"I have yet to meet a Burmese Muslim in the U.S. who does not support her," said Yasmin Vanya, who is Muslim and secretary of the Burmese American Women's Alliance. "We are all so proud of her."
Vanya said she is bringing her 80-year-old mother from San Jose to meet Suu Kyi on Saturday.
Among those disappointed to be missing Suu Kyi's San Francisco visit is Russian chessmaster Garry Kasparov, who planned to attend the Freedom Forum but canceled his flight Wednesday to work on his longtime campaign to end what he has called the "president-for-life" rule of Vladimir Putin.
"She's one of the few symbols of the resistance" to dictatorships worldwide, Kasparov said by phone from Moscow this week. Repeatedly arrested and threatened for his anti-Putin activism, he said he admired the perseverance of Suu Kyi and the Burmese people.
"Spending five days in Putin's jail is insignificant compared to what these people are facing in their lives," he said.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Bay Area appearances are now closed but will be live-streamed. The Friday event at the San Francisco Freedom Forum (www.sanfranciscofreedomforum.com) begins at noon, but her speech is expected to begin after 5 p.m.
Her 9:15 a.m. Saturday appearance at the University of San Francisco can be seen online at www.usfca.edu/suukyi.