The visit by Suu Kyi, 67, a Nobel laureate who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing military rule, marks the zenith of a two-decade influx of Burmese refugees that has brought a new global awareness to the city of 256,000 people two hours north of Indianapolis.
Since 1991, when a single Burmese refugee resettled here, thousands more have followed, many of them relocating under a federal program after years in refugee camps in Thailand. They join other political refugees from a host of countries who have made the city a second home since the fall of Saigon in 1975, thanks largely to the help of Catholic Charities.
The 2010 census found 3,800 Burmese in Allen County, where Fort Wayne is located, but Fred Gilbert, a retired welfare worker who now runs a website designed to help immigrants adjust to American life, says the number may be be a few thousand higher because some Burmese identify themselves by ethnic origin rather than nationality.
Many of those residents plan to turn out Tuesday when Suu Kyi speaks to a crowd expected to number more than 7,000 at Memorial Coliseum. The visit is part of a 17-day U.S. visit during which she has met with President Obama and received the Congressional Gold Medal.
Signs welcoming her have shown up throughout the city. Students gathered recently to make flags depicting the fighting peacock that appears on the flag of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.
"She is the hope for the people," said Ba Kyi, who now works for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and helps the Burmese opposition in exile. "She can bring democracy again in Burma."
For many of the city's Burmese residents, Suu Kyi's visit will be the first tangible connection in years, even decades, with the homeland some hope to return to one day.
Those attending Tuesday's speech will be eager to hear Suu Kyi's views on sanctions toward Myanmar. Since her release in 2010, she has joined hands with members of the former ruling junta that detained her to push ahead with political reform. She is under pressure from Myanmar President Thien Sein's government to press the United States to remove the restrictions.