In 1959, when China occupied Tibet, my grandparents escaped by crossing the Himalayan mountains. Tibetans made a new life in Nepal and India. The Indian government gave settlements to us in South India. My family became farmers and grew crops to make a living. During the 90’s Tibetans started immigrating from Nepal and India to America, Canada, Europe, and Australia to name a few.
I was eight years old when I flew on the plane for the first time. It was just me and my twin sister flying across the Atlantic Ocean from India to America. Just like any immigrants, we were coming to the states for a better life. I started third grade at a public school in New York City. For my first day, they put me in a class with kids whose first language was not English. Being an outsider, the school had me take an ESL test because they assumed I did not know English. After I was done taking the test, the teacher was really impressed. The next day, I was put in a class where I was one of the few students who were minorities.
I changed to a charter school for my middle school, there were only three Tibetans in my whole grade; in fact, I was the only Asian in my eighth-grade class. The three Tibetan students were my sister, my friend, and me. All of our first names were Tenzin, which was confusing for others but normal to us. His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama is our spiritual leader, and his name is Tenzin Gyatso. The meaning behind the name Tenzin is “protector of the dharma” and it is a blessing receiving this name. I am proud to be a Tibetan and represent my culture and traditions.
As a kid, I went to Tibetan school on the weekends, learned the Tibetan language, prayers, and dance. I really enjoyed performing during Losar, which is the Tibetan New Year. When I was younger, I would wake up to Tibetan songs on Losar morning. My mom would make dreyse, which is a rice dish, eaten as dessert, and we usually have it with bho cha, which is butter tea. We make khapsey, which are Tibetan snacks that we offer on the altar for the gods. We dress up in our traditional attire called chuba, and women wear a pandey that is an apron to symbolize marriage.
March 10 is an important date to me because it’s Tibetan Uprising Day. From the time I was little kid up until this day, I have participated in peaceful protests to fight for my country’s freedom. When I was younger, I never understood why my mom would be in tears at protest or at teachings held by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. As I have gotten older, I feel more connected to my country. One time I was with my dad at a train station in New York City and a man yelled at us “Go back to your country” and walked away, not knowing how his words would affect others. After hearing that comment, I was just in tears. It makes me really sad because this comment means something else to me; I have never been to my homeland Tibet and cannot go back because it is not a free country. It’s always been a dream of mine to take my family to Tibet, and I know in my heart Tibet will be free one day.
America is so diverse; it has so many beautiful cultures and we all live in harmony in one big melting pot. Living in America has given me so many opportunities. I am a first generation college graduate from America in my family. My parents were there for all my graduations: elementary, middle, and high school. Being an immigrant graduating college was a big accomplishment and a huge milestone. College graduation was different from any other ones because my dad was not there in the crowd cheering me on. My mom was very happy and proud of me and I know my dad is always watching over us from heaven.
As a Tibetan Buddhist, we practice daily to be a good and kind human being. During this pandemic, many people have faced hardships and moving forward we need to stay united to help our world overcome COVID-19. As citizens of this world, it is our duty to take care of this earth and make sure to preserve it, therefore the future generation can have a better world. As His Holiness says we are visitors on this planet and only here for a short period of time, so we must make the most of it while we are here.