NEW YORK, US, 23 November 2016
Eighteen winters ago to this day I first touched down on the tarmac of this great land, which Christopher Columbus found by nautical default and whose citizens swear to be of the free and the home of the brave.
I remember how on descent our plane titled towards the Manhattan skyline, and those magical glittering lights milking their way over the city.
It was a moment of sheer excitement, momentous pride, and escalating joy, to make it to the other side of the globe, and almost an hour later to be actually breathing the open air outside the airport and seeing real American life unfold in real time. The hype of “culture shock” was a far cry from my own experience, probably because it was a culture that I already knew too well and media exposure had acclimatized my mindset. I was already subservient to the system of western culture, assimilation of which unnoticeably infected at my own welcoming and virtuous embrace.
The world didn’t shrink as fast as people thought it would when the World Wide Web was created, but neither did the concept of being confined within the once imagined inescapable borders, both geographic and mental. It was the concept of free trade and globalization, punctuated by the advent in technology in the last fifteen years, that disrupted everything from how we look at life, either through instantaneous live video feeds, social media sites and experiencing through oculus virtual reality that anyone could just be anywhere at anytime. It was the opening of the world to an unforeseeable future.
Just as the world was evolving and connecting at a pace that no one thought was possible, people wanting to catch up from the little specks on the globe would put everything at stake to be part of the race to prosperity. And to do this, leaving everything behind — their beautiful valleys, luscious mountains, extended families, as well as disproportionate poverty, disenfranchisement, sexism, religious bigotry, and political persecution.
Even at the cost of risking their lives to come to this often mistaken utopian land yet a haven for refuge, people are smuggled in shipping containers, packed with vegetable cartons, walking for days in the desert, swimming across treacherous rivers, crossing countless countries, where untold stories of abuses are swallowed. Many drown themselves in racketeering loans and compound interest, to be paid for a passage that consumes them in this foreign land to perpetual sweatshops hours and bonded labor.
Every immigrant, because of their socio-economic and political background, has a different perspective on this newfound life. Many are sadly drowned after their first exuberance at their success, never able to find their footing again in their new life, and most tragically, losing connection to their past and its social ties, intoxicated into this new world of self-centeredness.
Then there are people who were brought up in the remotest areas, with little education, many marginalized on the edges of an archaic caste system, enduring rampant prejudice on gender roles, economic dependency on government, that when they thought their life would be confined within the edges of the single wired suspension bridges, hanging from the village of one hilltop to the next or confined within the villages, where the last paved roads were miles away and where Edison’s invention of the light bulb still hadn’t seen their darkness.
They take this leap of faith to this newfound life, raising money in every possible way to smuggle themselves out of the grips of poverty, destitution, and ignorance. And they not only make the most of it by sheer hard work, but have become thriving examples of how on a level playing field, apart from the bureaucracy, caste system, and rampant sexism they laboured under previously, they can surge ahead, tipping the scale of empowerment.
If this world was not judged on school certifications and higher education, and everyone, educated or not, was thrown to a new order and a new world, where no one is marginalized or abhorred based on sexism and cultural carved class system, is given a fair shot at life within a level playing field, anyone even the most, once thought deplorable, unsophisticated, and uneducated could emerge as the most successful. I have seen many from my own community and others do this, and I take great pride in their overwhelming successes.
Then the bottom line is, no matter how successful you have become as an individual, it is morally imperative that you must never forget where we all came from and from what challenged environmental roots we all grew.
With this God-given second chance of life, whether you have become a successful entrepreneur or shine in any sectors of economy and risen in social status. Whether you own a big house or small, whether you have your own yard or swimming pool, whether you have your own business or fancy cars, let’s for once rewind that timeline and transport ourselves in retrospect to the last day you spent in your country of origination. Remember the first day you landed on that tarmac, or the first day you were smuggled out after countless days of suffering on both land and sea. Then can we find the true meaning to our lives and relish the foundations to our success.
Every time you drink that water from your filtered faucet, think about the time you had to hike through rough terrain to fetch water on your back. Every time you have the luxury to choose what kind of cheese, what brand of coffee, what kind of meat, fruits, or vegetables to eat, always remember those hard days where foods were rationed and meat and fruits were a luxury. Every time you drive that luxurious car on a paved road, think about the days when you commuted on packed vehicles without cushioning or air conditioners on unpaved bumpy roads, often without a seat and hanging off the rear of the vehicle.
Always remember where we all started from, to get a sense of belonging to a lost self, immersed in newfound perpetual material gain but wrought to barren spiritual field, and build upon such a realization a mindset to help others in need, who are still at the starting point of your “cherished second life”.
About the author
Ugyen Gyalpo lives in Woodside, New York, and works as an insurance agent for United Health Group, New York.
More articles by Ugyen Gyalpo on Tibet Sun.