Stanford Myanmar community holds vigil to honor victims of coup

Feb. 2, 2023, 1:00 a.m.

“The people united will never be defeated.” Upwards of 25 Stanford students and surrounding community members gathered in White Plaza on Wednesday night, chanting these words to honor all who have passed since the start of the military coup in Myanmar. Feb. 1 marked two years since the coup’s beginning.

The vigil was organized by the Stanford Myanmar Student Association (SMSA), who were joined by Myanma activists based in San Francisco. The night included speeches, chants and a brief overview of Myanmar’s history from its early origins to British colonization and its eventual independence in 1947.

Since achieving independence, there have been many attempts by the Myanma to establish a constitution and democracy in their home country, but instability has led to repeated violent military coups. Most recently, the country was rocked by the 2021 military coup that led to the ousting of State Counsellor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The vigil focused on honoring those that have passed away in the fight for freedom and democracy since the coup. More than a thousand people have died, while many more are still held in custody.

“We hosted this vigil because, as SMSA, we obviously have ties with Myanmar, whether some of us were born there, most of us have family still there, so because of that, Myanmar is very dear to our hearts,” said Hannah Oo ’24, co-president of SMSA. Along with other speakers at the vigil, she acknowledged that Feb. 1 is a very important day for Burmese people. “We wanted to take the time today, on the two-year date from the very first 2021 military coup … to commemorate the lives lost and also hold a space for education, healing, empowerment and hope,” Oo said.

Attendees like Swan Yu Htut, a first-year PhD candidate in Sociology, who was joined by his father, spoke of the importance of the vigil for students who may not be of Myanma descent. “It’s really important for us to let people know what we’re trying to do and also let people know about what’s been happening since the coup,” he said.

SMSA co-president Biak Tha Hlawn ’25 echoed Yu Htut. “I just want an understanding from faculty, staff and from fellow students. A lot of us are carrying our lives with grief, pain, loss, that even like therapists and our family members and even ourselves cannot fathom and don’t know how to make out, so we just appreciate the kindness and love that you’re trying to give to others given also back to us,” she said.

As the vigil came to a close, members of the vigil chanted in English and Burmese for a final time, echoing a reminder of their persistent hope in the long fight for democracy.

“Long live international solidarity,” they said.

Judy N. Liu is a freshman from Fountain Valley, California. She enjoys embroidery, listening to music, and reading as much Agatha Christie and John Steinbeck as she possibly can.

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