One of the first Opinion articles i wrote-

Living as ‘Other’ in the U.S.A.

By Tenzin Shakya

September 25, 2008 (The Inquirer)

I am a Tibetan, born in Nepal and raised in India until age 8, when I came to the United States.

Mine is a typical journey for this second generation of Tibetan “refugees,” who fight against being extinct in the modern world.

Our parents fled from their homeland to become refugees in neighboring countries to save their families’ lives and provide better education for their children.

When people ask me why Tibet should be free, I answer by saying, “Because everyone has the right to basic freedom.”

We try our best to preserve our ancestral culture and beliefs by telling anyone who will listen, about the situation in Tibet.

Located in the central Himalayan, Tibet is also known to many as “Shangrila” meaning “utopian peace.” I have never been there myself but it is a priority after finishing my studies.

Growing up in America was difficult but surely not impossible. I spoke four languages – Tibetan, Nepali, Hindi and English -and managed to blend in with the rest in elementary and middle school, never really questioning who I was.

But that changed my first year of high school.

I was filling out a form online, when I noticed there was no selection for “Tibetan” under “ethnicity”

Clicking on the word “Asian,” I was led to a list of everything from “Indian” to “Chinese” and even “Taiwanese.”

I hit the box for “other” and typed in “Tibetan,” thinking how America is one of the top countries in the world, and yet there is no room on a form to acknowledge my identity.

Since then, I have felt the need to specify my ethnicity as Tibetan. Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) once said, “Knowledge is power.” And I believe knowledge is gained through education.

China claims Tibet to be a part of China. Yet Tibetans are forced to be minorities in their own land and lack many economic and educational resources needed to survive.

The Chinese government repeatedly states its invasion benefited Tibet by bringing it into the modern world. How it is possible then that the educational index for Tibet ranks last against China’s other 31 provinces? And why must the youth of Tibet learn to speak Chinese in order to go to school? Many of them fail to do so and drop out after the fifth grade.

Due to this lack of educational opportunities, young Tibetans escape every year across the treacherous Himalayas to join the Tibetan exile community in India. And from there, they try to further their education by coming to the west. Thus, the cycle of my story starts all over again.

The Tibetan Association of Northern California estimates the population of Tibetans here is at about 3,500.

But we were invisible until the controversy surrounding the decision to hold the 2008 Olympic Games in China. Now, just about everyone knows of the “Free Tibet” movement.

When people ask me why Tibet should be free, I answer by saying, “Because everyone has the right to basic freedom.”

I am pro Tibetan independence, but more along the lines of “Tibetan freedom.” I also favor “Chinese freedom” and “African freedom.” It is a matter of focusing on the basic principles of human rights.

People deserve the right to make choices for themselves regarding their lives – to speak when they have ideas to share and to practice the religion in which they believe.

The way to participate in a “modern.” civilized society is by making dialogues a necessity. Government’s primary role should be to protect the rights of its citizens, not restrict them.

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