Immigrant Ambassadors: Citizenship and Belonging in the Tibetan Diaspora

Immigrant Ambassadors: Citizenship and Belonging in the Tibetan Diaspora

Immigrant Ambassadors: Citizenship and Belonging in the Tibetan Diaspora

Immigrant Ambassadors: Citizenship and Belonging in the Tibetan Diaspora


The Tibetan diaspora began fifty years ago when the current Dalai Lama fled Lhasa and established a government-in-exile in India. For those fifty years, the vast majority of Tibetans have kept their stateless refugee status in India and Nepal as a reminder to themselves and the world that Tibet is under Chinese occupation and that they are committed to returning someday.

In the 1990s, the U. S. Congress passed legislation that allowed 1,000 Tibetans and their families to immigrate to the United States; a decade later the total U. S. population includes some 10,000 Tibetans. Not only is the social fact of the migration- its historical and political contexts- of interest, but also how migration and resettlement in the U. S. reflect emergent identity formations among members of a stateless society.

Immigrant Ambassadors examines Tibetan identity at a critical juncture in the diaspora's expansion, and argues that increased migration to the West is both facilitated and marked by changing understandings of what it means to be a twenty-first-century Tibetan- deterritorialized, activist, and cosmopolitan.


In 1999, a twenty-year-old Tibetan woman named Namgyal watched her father, Lobsang, take an oath to become a citizen of the United States of America. Her father came to the United States as part of the Tibetan U.S. Resettlement Project (TUSRP), the first significant resettlement of Tibetans in the United States. He was one of 1,000 Tibetans who benefited from a provision in the 1990 Immigration Act that provided immigrant visas for Tibetans living in India and Nepal. She recalled that as she watched, her father swore an oath of fealty to the United States: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to support any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” She reported thinking, “Those words aren’t really true for us, we will always hold Tibet in our hearts.” This book is an exploration of the emergence of new ways of thinking about loyalty to states or to a nation, about the meaning of “nation” and “culture,” about the way states both constrain and enable these relationships, and finally, about the way Tibetans’ sense of themselves in relation to these ideas is changing.

The advent of the tusrp and, subsequently, the years during which this research was conducted (1995–2002) mark a period of time in which, more than ever before, Westerners have come face to face with Tibetans, and at the same time, Tibetans have confronted Western ideas about themselves and their homeland. For Tibetans in exile, Tibet is a site of nostalgia and of often painful memories, or for those born in exile an absence of memory. Tibet represents both a palpable sense of loss and, at the same time, it represents all that is most saturated with meaning, the raison d’être for many exile selves. the introductory . . .

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