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Many of you might wonder how an eighth-generation Vermonter could possibly have a connection with Burma; also known as Myanmar. Nearly a decade ago our son, Wesley, introduced us to a lovely young lady, May Oo Khiang, from Bago, Burma.

Her jet-black hair and blacker eyes made her difficult to read. That she spoke very little English didn’t help matters much.

She had not been in our home for more than a few minutes when I noticed she was in our kitchen going through the refrigerator. I just assumed she was hungry and I was amused that she already felt comfortable raiding the refrigerator. Minutes later she was chopping up vegetables with lightning speed. Seriously, the knife she was using was a blur. Every piece she cut was exactly the same thickness. Watching May use a knife is hypnotic.

I approached her and told her that she was a guest in our home and did not have to make us a meal. What I got in return was a look from those black eyes that caused me to stop. I don’t back down easily, but I was backing down now. With her left hand she made a flicking motion making it clear that I was to leave the kitchen.

I went into our living room and said to my son that his lady friend appeared to be preparing to make a meal and that I had just been shushed out of my own kitchen. Wes wisely suggested that I get out of her way.

Since that first encounter these two kids now have two kids of their own, a dog and a restaurant. May’s lifelong dream to own her own restaurant came true nearly three years ago when she and Wes opened MOONWINK in Manchester, Vermont’s only authentic Burmese restaurant.

Through her cooking skills (she learned to cook from her grandmother who taught her to make food with love) she has not only introduced our family to wonderful food, but also to Burma. A year ago we all went to Burma to meet her family and see her country. May is now an American citizen.

Burma is a diverse, majestic country with thousands of ancient Pagodas. The people are friendly and the scenery otherworldly. However, the country is ruled by the heavy, corrupt hand of the military. In their recent election, the military lost all support from the people. The military’s solution was to lock up its opponents. Peaceful protests are now underway.

However, the corrupt military of Burma is relentless and have no desire to give up their power. They are taking drastic measures to quell their opposition, including but not limited to water cannons, slingshots, theoretically firing live ammunition into the air (there have been reports of protesters being shot and killed), cutting off phone and internet service.

You may not be aware that when the Constitution for this country was written the military played a heavy role.

They were able to get language included that said no matter how the people vote they still get 25 percent of the seats in their government. In this last election the military lost by a lot. The last thing they want or could tolerate is for a popular candidate to step in and take charge. As soon as the election results were in, the military struck back.

The parallels between Burma and what almost happened here in America are worth noting. We just rid ourselves of a president who would have been thrilled to have had the military step in to squelch a free election. If you have a president who is willing to pressure his vice president to subvert the electoral college count it’s not a reach to think of what might have happened had he had complete and total control of our military.

It’s important to remember that our democracy is, and always has been fragile.

As citizens, our job is to pay attention, hold our elected officials accountable and ensure that our rights are never violated.

I would ask that you all, forevermore, hold that image of a radical insurrectionist waving a confederate flag inside our cherished Capitol. The day you forget that image may very well be the day we lose all that America has fought for.

Pay attention. Get involved. Push back against those who would destroy our democracy.

Since this was written President Biden has proposed sanctions against the military. The world is taking notice and hopefully stepping up to help the people of Burma. We ask that you, too, help keep up the pressure for freedom.

To quote Emma Lazarus, “Until we are all free, none of us are free.”

Bob Stannard writes a regular column for the Journal.


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