Immigrant Ambassadors: Citizenship and Belonging in the Tibetan Diaspora

By Julia Meredith Hess | Go to book overview

8
“Culture Is Your Base Camp”:
Tibetans in New Mexico, Youth,
and Cultural Identity

Introduction

ON MARCH 10, 1997, during the year that many of the families of the original “anchor relatives” finally began to arrive in New Mexico, Tibetans in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe organized and attended a commemoration of the 1959 Lhasa uprising that led to the flight of the Dalai Lama to India. As Tibetans convened in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, they knew that their compatriots in Delhi, Dharamsala, New York, Boulder, and Paris would be gathering with their snow-lion–emblazoned Tibetan flags and their photos of the Dalai Lama, painting their signs and perfecting their slogans. This day, commemorated by Tibetans across the diaspora, results in a “deep horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 1983) binding diasporic Tibetans, reminding them of their purpose, which many state as fighting for the freedom of their compatriots suffering under Chinese domination in Tibet (see Figure 8.1). Events like these serve as public platforms where Tibetans in the United States can speak out and educate their audience about what has happened in Tibet under the Chinese, explain the presence of Tibetans in the United States can increase support for political change in Tibet. In 1997, Tibetans organized a variety of people to give speeches at New Mexico’s state capitol in Santa Fe. With perhaps 100 nonTibetan onlookers, the organizer invited a Santa Fe Tibetan to talk about his experiences living under Chinese rule in Tibet.

The man introduced himself as Wangdu. He said that Tibet was independent until 1959 and that Tibetans have been killed in “nonviolent demonstrations against Chinese authority.” Wangdu was born in Tibet in 1951. His immediate family included his parents and several brothers. His father was arrested by the

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