WOODSIDE, NY, US, 5 June 2019
A few years ago, when I was driving up the hills of Ithaca towards Cornell university, I came upon a street called Tibet Road. A quiet corner of a single-lane road it was, surrounded by the usual quietness of nature and probably punctuated by the frequent crossing of the deer. But to see a road, any road regardless, being named after my lost country Tibet was heartwarming to say the least.
Ever since Tibet lost its independence, many thousands who followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama across the Himalayas settled mostly in India. Fast forward a little less than four decades later, into the mid-nineties, many of the Tibetans born as refugees in India including myself, now ripened to enter the job market after a good education, were faced with a dismal future as far as getting a job in Indian civil administration. With little choice left and desperation caving in, many are left to follow on the footsteps of their parents into selling sweaters on the plains of India in the winter months. The others who didn’t have their parental business to follow would soon see their future fold into darkness. Hence the quest for the West began.
Further accentuated by the uncertainty of the political future with the aging of His Holiness and the shifting of India’s policies against Tibet’s geopolitical relevance, along with the frequent snubbing of Tibet-related events to appease China, a storm was looming for the Tibetans to avoid, and so the dream to fly to the Western Hemisphere took root.
The collateral effects of this have fueled a sense of urgency. According to a recent survey, more than half of all the diaspora Tibetans live in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the host countries who gave them political asylum, also paved a way for citizenship, hence securing their future and a permanent place away from their actual home under seized, something the place they were born into couldn’t guarantee. If this doesn’t apply to you, please let it fly.
Now the Tibetans are scattered all over the world like beads of the same broken rosary. Along with the resilience they have displayed for decades to rise up from total destitution to probably the most successful refugee community anywhere in the plains and hills of India, they have equally harnessed that innate confidence and that fire in the belly to rebuild their lives, and incubate and preserve their culture in this new hemisphere.
New York is such a place, a crucible unlike any, a melting pot where people from all over the world come and meet and shape their otherwise twisted destiny in this new-found hope, to bite into the ever growing pie of the Big Apple.
Among the ever-growing wave of immigrants, the newest immigrants have evolved into a Tibetan community in New York, and they have already made an impact in the vibrant county of Queens.
An area in Jackson Heights, in a three-block radius, is the hub that once was over a decade ago called “Little India”. It is now being slowly inundated by immigrants from Bangladesh, changing the whole demographic. And now among the hustle and bustle, the filth and stench of this rapidly-growing community, and beneath the surface and the whirlwind of the transformation, there has been the incremental surge and rise of this new migratory race. Amidst the aroma of fish curry, the steam of Tibetan dumplings has also filled the air of this area.
When country after country, town after town, city after city, are sucking up to the soft and sharp powers of China, it’s an amazing victory of a sort for the leaders of our constituents to heed to the request of our community outreach leaders and for them to show their appreciation as a good will gesture by naming a street after Tibet, a name many in the world these day would only sympathize with, but not act for.
Now in New York City, there is a Tibet Way at the junction of 32nd Avenue and 58th Street. Tibet Way might just be a precursor to the real way back home that we all wish for. But to see a street named after our identity, a name that has become synonymous to injustice, a name that is unknown to the world of the new generation, a name that is buried under the diplomatic rug of the sold nations, a name that the National Geographic society and Atlases were happy to erase to please the market of China — it is just too personal. I am happy that every time I drive through that avenue, I would see the name of my land, my country, forever installed on that street post, inviting passers-by to search out the significance of this name and unravel its place in the world.
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.