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Tibetans in America

Audience with H.H. the Dalai Lama in Central Park, September 2004.

The first Tibetans migrated to the United States in the late 1960s. From then on till the early 90s, there was no major immigration of the Tibetan people into the US. After this period, the number of Tibetans in the United States has increased dramatically. Tibetans come to the US from India, Nepal and Tibet and now live in most of the 50 states of the United States. The early immigrants who settled in the US have children who have graduated from American schools and are now fully a part of the main stream American society. The latter immigrants — those who came in the late 90s — have not.

Some of those who came here in the early 90s did not know how to speak in English and faced tremendous hardships. They went to evening schools to learn the language in order to get better paying jobs and learn the workings of the American society. Those without any family members or friends to help them when they first came here were confronted with numerous difficulties. To better their situations, some took the initiative to learn skills and the ways of their new surroundings to reduce their adversities. It is to their credit that they are now faring well. Most of the early group now have good paying jobs; some own homes and others are pursuing higher education.

The jobs held by Tibetans vary greatly. Some are skilled workers while most recent immigrants are non-skilled workers. Most Tibetan women, who immigrated recently, work as babysitters and housekeepers. Some of these women lack any marketable skills and also have difficulty with the English language. They do not have a lot of options owing to this lack of language and education skills and are left with no other option but to babysit and keep houses. Most of them report enjoying their jobs. Some Tibetans have their own businesses. There are quite a few Tibetan-owned stores and restaurants.

When we first came to this country, many married people had to leave their spouses and children behind in the hope of bringing them over at a later time. Most of them did manage to reunite with their families within a few years. However, there were situations where the spouse in this country remarried and divorced their spouse left in India/Nepal/Tibet thereby breaking up families.

It is ironic that one generation of Tibetans had to leave Tibet and flee to India and Nepal and the next generation immigrated to other countries. Although the reasons for this movement are different, the earlier fled against their will — to save their lives — while the latter chose to uproot themselves voluntarily to better their lives. It is not very easy to maintain our identities as Tibetans when we are surrounded by the western culture. However, we work hard to keep our identities and take pride in our heritage. It cannot be ignored that the younger generation are becoming increasingly more westernized. In the opinion of this writer, the cause of that could be that they go to American schools where they interact with their peers who are non-Tibetans.

For us Tibetans, the state of our country is always on our mind. Although we are living far from Tibet, she is never far from our mind. Even though we may not be able to return there during our life times, we are sure that one of our future generations will be born in a free Tibet.

The author of this article — a young Tibetan girl from India living now in New York — wishes to remain anonymous.