STANTON, Calif.—Burmese citizens in Orange County, California, say they’re heartbroken by the ongoing situation in Burma (also known as Myanmar) following last month’s military coup, and are urging U.S. officials to become more actively involved in restoring the country’s democracy.
The city of Stanton is home to Orange County’s largest Burmese community and the county’s only Burmese restaurant, Irrawaddy Taste of Burma. Restaurant owner Banny Hong, along with other members of the Burmese diaspora in the region, are concerned for family members and friends suffering through the turmoil.
“Burma is a peaceful country with peaceful people. I cannot believe this is happening right now,” Hong told The Epoch Times. “The military has taken full control and people are being killed everywhere.”
Stanton Mayor David Shawver told The Epoch Times he has developed an admiration for Burmese culture and hospitality from his constituents. Following the coup, the local community shared personal stories with him about the ongoing situation in Burma, he said. He compared them to some of history’s worst atrocities.
“Everyone who believes in basic human rights and freedom must be aware of and educated about what is happening in Myanmar. It is very similar to what happened in Cambodia and in the killing fields of all of Vietnam,” Shawver said.
“We need to support the families and the students by educating the people of California and throughout the U.S. about the reality of the brutalities and murders in Myanmar. We must get our government to condemn and sanction the leaders of the takeover of the democratic government.”
Before being ousted and detained following the Feb. 1 coup, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi held the role of Burma’s state counsellor, the civilian head of government. Since then, U.S. officials have tried to contact her, but have been rebuffed by the country’s military regime, which has used increasing violence against protesters in recent weeks.
As of March 15, over 2,000 people had been arrested, charged, or sentenced, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, and nearly all were still in detention or had outstanding warrants. Over 182 had been killed in the violent crackdowns.
Orange County residents with connections in Burma showed The Epoch Times visual evidence of alleged victims of the crackdown’s violence.
“We must not let the atrocities be repeated to anyone else,” said Shawver. “We must pray, because what is happening is not going to be OK.”
To raise local awareness about the horrors that are currently surfacing, a Myanmar Democracy Awareness rally has been planned for noon on Saturday, March 20, at Stanton City Hall.
Thet Lin Tun, the 21-year-old president of the Burmese Student Association at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA), told The Epoch Times the rally’s cause is to spread awareness about what is actually going on in Burma.
When he first heard about the situation, he didn’t believe it, he said—especially after the country won back a form of democracy in 2011 after decades of military rule.
“When I first started [hearing] about the situation in Myanmar it shocked me,” said Tun. “I could not process it at all for the first few moments. This just seems completely something that came out of fiction, and it just was unbelievable that we have to be going through this all over again.”
Tun and his student association have been fundraising for humanitarian efforts since the coup began. The group also gathers on-the-ground information about what is really going on in the country, as military officials have restricted international journalists from documenting the conflict.
Tun said when people read news about the situation, many mainstream sources talk about the brutality that has happened, but it’s “a little bit more filtered.”
“But then the news that are coming out from direct sources right now are showing and telling me that the situation in Myanmar is even worse than what the newspapers have covered, and the military has been horrifically brutal towards their own people, towards the peaceful protesters. They’ve been ramping up and escalating their killing of the civilians,” he said.
Saturday’s rally in Stanton will feature political and Burmese guest speakers, connections with Burmese culture, photographic and video evidence of the conflict, and information about what people can do to help.
“California can help [us] and more by being engaged with what’s going on in Myanmar, and really taking in information and awareness of the current situation to conduct advocacy. Write your senators and congressional representatives, and … really pressure Congress into taking some form of action to help the people of Myanmar,” Lin suggested. “Be engaged about what’s going on and advocate to elected officials that some action needs to be done.”