By Sonam Dorjee (Toronto)
The following thoughts highlighting issues and challenges faced by North American Tibetans are timely to have discussed now with the Tibetan general elections to choose the North American Tibetan Chithues and the Sikyong are on the anvil. It is an attempt to steer away discussions from the on-going debate over ideological differences between Rangzen and Umay-Lam to the ground reality. It is also an attempt to highlight the importance of choosing the right NA Tibetan Chithues, who have the vision and mission to work hard toward achieving the basic objective of preserving the Tibetan identity.
Background and Context:
Since the resettlement of 1,000 Tibetans in the United States, as a part of the US-Tibetan resettlement project, Tibetan Diaspora community in North America (NA) has burgeoned; thriving relatively well in various towns and cities across the US and Canada. Following which, scores of Tibetans continue to enter NA in pursuit to live the North American dream. It has been over twenty-five years now since the resettlement project was implemented. In light of that - have we undertaken any concrete initiatives to revamp the conventional roles of the Office of Tibet (OoT) and the NA Tibetan Chithues vis-à-vis burgeoning Tibetan population in North America?Currently, apart from some internal hiccups, around thirty NA Tibetan Associations are doing considerably well both in terms of observing Tibetan programs on a regular basis and honoring directions from the Office of Tibet related to the issue of Tibet. This is primarily due to India/Nepal-born generations of Tibetans being at the helm; essentially taking responsibilities to strengthen our movement and work toward bonding well with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) through the Office of Tibet. However, in my cynical view, unless concerted efforts are being made in future from all concerns, including NA Tibetan Chithues and the OoT, Tibetan Diaspora community in NA may be faced with dwindling situations such as, potential disconcertments within NA Tibetan Diaspora community and, more seriously, a potential annulment of relationship with the Central Tibetan Administration in the long run.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the younger generations of Tibetans, who are either born or raised outside of India and Nepal, are quickly assimilating into the domiciled country’s culture; gradually drifting away from embracing Tibetan mentality and identity. The challenge, while prevalent within the NA communities, is more so to maintain Tibetan folks somehow connected to the root cause and the institution of Central Tibetan Administration. Leaders like NA Tibetan Chithues and the OoT Representative must have a strong will and competency not only to lead on the political front but also a sheer determination to foray into serving its NA Tibetans on social and cultural front. As things have evolved over the years, the roles of the NA Chithues and the OoT must be revisited and tweaked to reflect the changing needs of the NA Tibetan communities. Preferably reorienting their mandates to not only serve the best interest of our cause, but also help gel the burgeoning Tibetan population in NA to the institution of Central Tibetan Administration more vigorously.
Besides political responsibility, a considerable effort needs to be made in social well-being of Tibetan youths in North America. Proactively initiating programs to engage Tibetan youth will certainly facilitate to bring Tibetan youth into the fold of Tibet issue and preserve its identity. However, these programs must be free from ideological laden agendas – Rangzen and Umay-Lam. In my view, more than anything else, the need of the hour is to work on promoting Rang-Lam (a Self-Way to preserve the unique Tibetan identity) amongst Tibetan youth by setting aside the ideological differences. It signifies the core value of both the approaches, without any inferences to any of the ideologies. Rang-Lam is a combination of two words that are being used to connote two different ideological perspectives. It means a self-initiated effort to find a way to preserve unique Tibetan identity and culture amongst Tibetan youth. The beauty of Rang-Lam initiative is not divisive within the community, nor it is external-support dependent. It focuses on the core value of being Tibetan; relates well with the Tibetan identity and above all - to be able to remain committed to the survival of Tibetan race.
Some people might argue that the only way to get the best out of available opportunities in NA is to completely integrate themselves into the domiciled country’s system and culture. However, it is also true to counter argue that anyone could be as successful American or Canadian as others without actually compromising on one’s own identity. As a matter of fact, it can never be an option of either or for the Tibetan youth. Rang-Lam initiative is a need for the majority of Tibetan youth who are at risk of further drifting away from Tibetan identity, culture and language. Rangzen and Umay-Lam debate is apparently a philosophical debate for them. That being said, it is not to discourage youth participation or engagement in the ideological debate, which is, in-fact, a great way to learn about the current status of Tibet.
A quest for Rang-Lam would lead the younger generations of Tibetans into the journey of learning Tibetan History, Culture, Buddhism, about CTA and more importantly, encourage them to live a meaningful life of a warm-hearted Tibetan. The crux of the matter is, irrespective of one’s ideological affiliations - Rangzen or Umay-Lam, if you lose Rang-Lam in terms of staying connected to the Tibetan History, Culture, Buddhism and the CTA, then the adverse repercussions on the survival of the Tibetan race is far greater than anything else. Therefore, all concerned leaders must work relentlessly to promote Rang-Lam initiatives such as, organizing conferences, workshops, camps, debates, achievement awards ceremonies, publishing Tibetan youth related periodicals, and other activities with an objective to impart knowledge on the rich Tibetan traditions and culture to them. In particular, audiences/meetings with His Holiness, exclusively for Tibetan youth, during His Holiness’ visits to the NA will certain go a long way in promoting Ram-Lam initiatives. Such kinds of apolitical initiatives will ensure participation from youth wearing different ideological stripes. The target group should be youth attending High Schools, Colleges, and Universities.
North American Tibetan Chithues Election:
The NA Tibetan Chithues can play a pivotal role in promoting Rang-Lam initiatives. Let us hope that the NA eligible voters will have the required wisdom to choose competent Chithue candidates who can work diligently to resolve issues and challenges faced by burgeoning Tibetan Diaspora community in NA. It remains to be seen whether candidates with qualifications such as, dynamic, principle-centered, consultative and participative leadership style, will step forward and enter the race to become NA Tibetan Chithue. The lack-luster response, so far, is of some concern, perhaps people are more fascinated by the Sikyong election campaign at this point of time.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Important Principles May, and Must, be Inflexible.” One of the most important characters to become a Chithue is to have ‘high principles’ and ‘strong values’ in order to exert moral authority over its constituents. This will ensure cooperation and due respect from its constituents, while working in the community. A principle-centered work credentials in the past would be essential to uphold the office of Tibetan People’s Deputies in highest respect. It is also imperative that the leaders must have high principles to lead all sections of people without prejudice against anyone for having different ideological affiliations. A strong sense of inclusion, along with transparency and a democratic mind-set, will be a way to go forward during the trying times for the Tibetans.
Thoughts on Reformation:
I would like to share my personal thoughts on improving the functionality of North American Tibetan Chithues for greater benefit. With a sole objective of improving efficiency and to eliminate the obvious difficulties faced by two Chithues working together for the entire NA regions - an option to divide electoral constituency or riding for two Chithues must be considered. One Chithue to represent NA Tibetans residing in the West Coast regions, including Canada (West Coast NA Tibetan Chithue) and the other one to represent the East Coast regions, including Canada (East Coast NA Tibetan Chithue). The objective of such an exercise would serve the purpose of enabling two Chithues to work independently for a particular electoral riding. This way - they could be held accountable for any shortcomings in their respective riding.
Eventually, considering the burgeoning Tibetan population in North America, it would indeed serve well for the Parliament-in-Exile to consider three Chithues to represent NA Tibetans. One Chithue representing Canadian Tibetans and the other two Chithues representing American Tibetans residing in the West Coast and East Coast respectively. Furthermore, by doing so, the constituents will have the desired or proper representation in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.