The Burma Road Leads To Westport

The “06880” tagline reads “Where Westport Meets the World.”

And — though Myanmar lies half a world a way from Westport — our connections are so close, it might as well be next door.

The new ambassador to Myanmar — the 1st in 22 years — is Derek Mitchell. His brother Jeff moved here in 1993. Derek comes often to watch his nephew Zach play Staples football and run indoor track (he captained the team to a state championship). The ambassador will be here next month too, for Zach’s graduation. (As Derek often does, he’ll walk his red poodle in Winslow Park.)

The swearing-in ceremony for Special Representative Derek Mitchell, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The ambassador’s oath will be administered soon by President Obama. From left: Min Lee (Derek’s wife), Derek Mitchell, Secretary Clinton, and Eli, Zach and Jeff Mitchell of Westport.

In February Burton Levin — the most recent ambassador to Burma (1987-90) — spoke at the Westport Public Library. Jeff Mitchell was there, and helped the 2 ambassadors connect.

Perhaps the most famous Burmese person in the world is U Thant, the 3rd secretary-general of the United Nations (1961-71). His daughter Daw Aye Aye Thant is a longtime resident of Westport. She speaks frequently here, and is the founder and president of the U Thant Institute.

According to Asia Times, her Westport home is filled with beautiful indigenous tapestries and exquisite sculptured Buddhas, and photos of her father with presidents Kennedy and Johnson, plus many other world leaders.

Last fall her son, Thant Myint-U, spoke at Green’s Farms Congregational Church on key issues facing Myanmar and the rest of Southeast Asia.

Jeff Mitchell hopes to arrange for his brother, Aye Aye Thant and former Ambassador Levin to speak together here. It would be a historic event, Jeff says, and would mean that Westport “pretty much has a monopoly on the top Burma scholars in the world, outside of that country.”

Though just “wishful thinking” today, Jeff would love for Aung San Suu Kyi — the Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition politician who recently helped Myanmar transition from military rule to democracy — to come together for the event.

Meanwhile, Jeff Mitchell has started a charity organization, Partner with Myanmar. The goal is to further the development of community-based programs and projects. The focus is on arts, culture and conservation.

Its 1st project brought international attention to the Me N Ma Girls, 5 college-educated women who wrote their own songs, battled censors both on song content and how they dressed, and came from different ethnic regions. They’re on the verge of becoming the 1st Burmese band — male or female — with an international recording contract.

Up next for Mitchell: creating the 1st film from Myanmar to be release globally. With Westport’s many industry connections, that goal may not be far-fetched.

06880 meets the world in many places, and many ways. The new democracy in Myanmar is one of the most intriguing, and impressive.

2 responses to “The Burma Road Leads To Westport

  1. Luisa Francoeur

    A very interesting article, Dan. Your readers should know,however, that there is another charity organization which focuses on Myanmar: From their website: “We work with local partners to improve health and education through community-driven development led by and for the people of Burma/Myanmar.” This organization along with Jeff’s (which sounds like it has a different focus) will be helpful to a country whose people need so much.

  2. Linda Smith

    Dan, you presume that your readers are as smart as you, and many are, I know. But I’m raising my hand to admit, ashamedly, that I didn’t know that Myanmar was the new name for Burma. Even the map you showed didn’t tell me that as I searched for “where is Myanmar on this map?” So thank you for this article. “Count it a day lost when you don’t learn something and get hell for something” as my husband’s family used to joke.

    I remember well U Thant’s tenure at the U.N. so think it’s wonderful that his daughter is a fellow Westporter.