March 28, 2008

Local Tibetans Respond to Violence in Native Country

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This is the first of a two-part series examining how local Tibetans are responding to the violence between China and Tibet.

The thick black fumes and deafening clamors of political turmoil may be halfway across the globe, but the recent outbreak of violence in Tibet hits home for many in Ithaca.
Palden Oshoe, a Tibetan who lives in Ithaca, has not called his eldest siblings in Tibet, Western China since news of the riots broke.
“They were in southern Tibet where there is not much riot. But to call them would be a risk, because [the Chinese] are keeping track of every call coming in,” Oshoe said.
Ithaca is home to about 50 Tibetans, including Tibetan Buddhist monks in the Namgyal Monastery, the North American seat of Dalai Lama.
[img_assist|nid=29190|title=Peace of mind|desc=A monk from Namgyal Monastery — a place of respite for many Tibetans — looks at stone tablets at the Johnson.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Tibetan Buddhist monks protested peacefully in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on March 10. Four days later, local Tibetans sparked a riot and began destroying properties of the ethnic Han and Hui Chinese.
By March 15, “the city was under martial law in all but name,” according to James Miles, the only foreign reporter in Lhasa at that time. Oshoe heard that a curfew was imposed.
“I heard there was one guy in Lhasa who tried to [call someone]. The person could not say much and he said, ‘Probably this will be my last time to talk and I will be arrested right after it.’ Because the Chinese has a curfew in the whole area, and it will be a big risk for anybody,” Oshoe said.
The March 10 protest in Lhasa was to commemorate the 49th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, when the Dalai Lama escaped to Dharamshala, in northern India, and received political asylum.
Oshoe was not even born in 1960, but the year holds special significance for him — it was the year when his mother fled Tibet with her two sons at midnight, leaving behind another son and a daughter. Oshoe explained that his mother could not bring them all because their cries would alert the Chinese. His father, who had been arrested, also managed to escape with the help of a fellow Tibetan.
Oshoe was born in Bhutan and later went to school in Dharamshala, where he first met some of his siblings when they visited from Tibet.
“They came to Dharamshala … I was born outside of Tibet. I never knew them. It was mostly my older brothers who would talk to each other, but I am almost like a stranger to the family,” he laughed. His two siblings chose to remain living in Tibet.
“They seem to be okay because they don’t do anything political,” said Oshoe.
Oshoe is now the president of the Tibetan Association of Ithaca and a translator for the Namgyal Monastery. The association, as always, organizes the annual March 10 protest in the Commons. This year was no different. A few days after the protests, however, local Tibetans were “angry, frustrated and saddened” by the “grave situation” in Tibet, according to Oshoe.
“We are responsible for doing something so that people back in Tibet don’t have to suffer that much,” Oshoe said.
The Association led two more protests and one candlelight vigil since the outbreak of the violence in Lhasa. The rallies always began in front of the Monastery and “the monks were always willing to join as long as the rallies were non-violent,” said Oshoe. Another protest will be held today at 6 p.m.
Prof. Jane Law, Asian studies, served in Namgyal’s board of directors about six years ago.
She recalled her conversation with Oshoe in a recent peace rally for Tibet, when they saw a lot of “really cute Tibetan children… having a good time because they get to wave their cards and flags.”
“It’s so sad. When the kids grow up they may remember this period of time as the time that something really terrible happened in Tibet,” Law told Oshoe in the rally.
“I want them to remember that at least we came and stood with them,” Law said.
She believed that the Monastery is successful in preserving Tibetan culture, but “it’s a new Tibetan culture because it’s in dialog with western culture.”
“The success of the Monastery here is an indication that Tibetan Buddhism is doing very good in exile, and this makes a very big impact over time,” she said.
Apart from the Namgyal Monastery, Ithaca is home to Snow Lion Publications, the largest press devoted to Tibetan Buddhism. It has printed over a million copies of books on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism.
Cornell also has several close links with Tibetan culture. The Monastery’s Venerable Tenzin Gephel is the first Tibetan Buddhist chaplain at Cornell United Religious Work. Moreover, the Charles W. Wason Collection on East Asia holds close to 9,000 volumes in Tibetan.
“One of the Tibetans was telling me that his brother came from New York City and he said, ‘you’re so lucky! The Dalai Lama comes to Ithaca and the Tibetan community gets an audience.’ It is a small, functional, close-knit community,” said Law.