When Tenzin Dolkar came to Catholic Charities for assistance in applying for citizenship, we interviewed her for this post. During that conversation she expressed how difficult it was to be to be “stateless” even though she was on her way to becoming a US citizen. The following guest post, written by Tenzin, captures how the Tibetan community she is part of in the US struggles in exile and how they are redefining their identity. Just yesterday, Tenzin (and several other Tibetans in our community) became sworn in as a US citizen so she is stateless no more. It was wonderful to witness her becoming a citizen!
In 1959 Chinese communist party under the name of liberation came to Tibet and conquered it. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at the age of 25 was both the political and religious leader of Tibet. He had to leave Tibet leading thousands into exile for the safety of everybody. Thousands and more continue to flee Tibet through the snow-capped mountains and took the strenuous trek to India to start a new life. Thousands lost their lives along the trip; more died out of diseases and exposure to intense heat. My grand parents were among the first generation Tibetans who survived the arduous journey from Tibet and managed to adjust to a whole new life in exile.
Tibetans were given few selective clustered sites by the Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Nehru to set up refugee camps. It eventually evolved into what is now Tibetan exile community. Dharamsala is the main center of the Tibetan exile community and resident of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. I did my schooling in Tibetan Children’s Village school in lower Dharamsala from Kindergarten to 10th Grade. Under the guidance and leadership of Dalai Lama the exile community became an important place where Tibetans focused on preserving their language, religion and culture. I feel grateful to receive the opportunity to learn my language with Tibetan children in Tibetan Schools in Exile. I grew up in exile with the sense of responsibility to carry on our elder’s struggle, to fight for our freedom from Chinese Communist government. My sense of identity has been shaped and influenced by my childhood in the exile community. I understood that Tibetans like myself who was born in India were all refugees. Tibetans are here temporarily to call for international assistance in our fight for freedom and mistreatment from Chinese government. Sadly the hardships gone through by Tibetans in our freedom struggle remained ignored with the growing economic power of China in this world.
My main struggle after coming to America has been facing the reality behind my new identity. Firstly I didn’t have a valid passport to use when I travel. I use a travel document issued by Indian government stating I am a temporary resident of India. Secondly, I have never seen Tibet and grew up in India my whole life. When foreigners ask me, “where I am from?” it saddens me to realize I can’t proudly say I am from Tibet. The international communities did not recognize the political identity of Tibet correctly. Tibet is still considered part of China. In Consequence, Tibetan’s freedom struggle is merely ignored. My identity of being a Tibetan is tied to the language I speak, Tibetan customs I follow and the Tibetan Religion I practice. This has been the result of growing up in a tight-knit Tibetan community in exile with a strong focus to carry on the preservation of our language, culture and religion. Our political struggle and ideals have changed dramatically over the last 25 years of being in exile in India. But keeping the identity of being a Tibetan in a foreign land can be succeeded only through a continuous effort in language, culture and religious preservation.