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The Year of the Water Dragon: Why We NEED to Celebrate Losar 2012

posted Nov 20, 2011, 1:13 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Nov 20, 2011, 1:22 PM ]

By Olo Bayul (Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

On Saturday night November 12, I rushed into the famous Glen Street VFW Hall in Somerville, Massachusetts and witnessed some inspiring performances by our precious Sunday school children. These kids, most of them between the ages of seven and seventeen, put on an incredible show for the packed audience. A sense of togetherness showered through the venue as we watched these children dressed in bright chubas (traditional Tibetan attire), enthusiastically perform on stage a variety of cultural, traditional, modern, and political songs and dances. It was clear that these children and their instructors practiced hard for this day. Not only did the event portray the successful preservation of the Tibetan culture, it also generated a substantial amount of funds proven to be vital for the improvement, enhancement, and survival of this initiative. These two are certainly interconnected and consequential.

141 words in and you are probably wondering why I am highlighting an event far away from Losar, which is the main topic of this article. The truth is that events like these are completely banned in occupied Tibet today. Tibetans inside Tibet are not allowed to participate in such events that promote Tibetan traditions because they oppose and hinder the process of patriotic re-education established and imposed by the Chinese Communist Government. This system is obviously another technique used by the Red Party to accelerate its goals of assimilation and conformity.

The Communist Government’s obstinate ego refuses to tolerate the rich culture Tibet has been surrounded with for thousands of years. But even a culture that has been worshipped and practiced for that many generations, under difficult circumstances, can fade away if not maintained and conserved properly. 52 years after China’s illegal occupation of Tibet and here we are in exile still trying our very best to protect our roots. These initiatives should never come to a stop.

With that being said, I think it is about that time we make this transition to talk about something else that should never come to a stop. Losar, which is the Tibetan New Year, is unanimously the most important traditional holiday celebrated by our people globally.

Tibetans and non-Tibetans all over the world come together on Losar to celebrate and participate in the festivities that underline the true essence of Tibetan culture. It is a holiday that provides entertainment and leisure but the most important part about our New Year is its communal and cultural significance. We spend this time to rejuvenate and revitalize a sense of unity, togetherness, and belonging. It allows our people, especially the 2nd generation Tibetans like most of the performers mentioned above, to revisit and retrace what it means to be Tibetan. The holiday essentially serves as an important tool. It expands our traditional understanding, which is the key to resisting Chinese colonialism and cultural hegemony.

With all this said, how do we really feel about TYC’s (Tibetan Youth Congress) appeal letter asking us to refrain from participating in the largest Tibetan holiday due to the recent self-immolations inside and outside Tibet? [click here for TYC letter.
This is the question I really want to tackle.

I got the news of this appeal letter through the Tibetan News and Music application on my Android phone (you should definitely check that app out). When I saw it, I did not know how to react. I could certainly understand the reasoning behind TYC’s decision. The recent cases of self-immolations inside and outside Tibet are indubitably tragic. Everybody, minus the Beijing leadership, understands this. We should all as moral human beings, be ready to sacrifice time and effort to resolve this issue as soon as possible. But do we really need to cancel Losar completely? We can look at the cons of this action by observing and evaluating a discussion initiated by a bunch of us on Facebook, the world's largest social networking website with over 800,000,000 registered users.

I posted that particular Phayul article covering TYC’s decision with a brief questionnaire on my profile wall. A profile wall, for those who are not updated with social media, is a personal page that you can utilize as a platform for communication. It also gives viewers an idea of who you are. I basically asked my friends if they agreed with the appeal. More than 20 people disagreed with TYC’s decision. This is what some of them had to say:

“Losar is one of those rare moments we can celebrate being Tibetan. I understand that we need to be sensitive to the issues in Tibet but there are more productive ways. This is self-defeating. Also, most communities do not incur expenses during Losar as the article states. It’s actually the opposite, where events such as Losar what allow Tibetan communities to survive financially. Again, would like to stress that we need to pay our respects to those who are giving up their lives, but let’s do it by fighting for what they believe in using more strategic ways that are not detrimental to the survival and growth of our communities”
     – Tsepa Bayul, 26 Boston, MA

“Disagree because one of the reasons why they gave up their lives was for the protection and preservation of our culture. By not celebrating Losar, I feel like we are doing a disservice to many of the Tibetan youth in the United States and other countries. We need to teach the next generation of the importance of preserving our culture and one of those things is by celebrating Losar. I feel like by not celebrating Losar, we are succumbing to China’s goals to get rid of our culture. But if we do celebrate Losar, there needs to be some sort of ceremony that commemorates the people that took their lives!”
     - Chakdor Lokyitsang, 24 Boston, MA

“Good thing about community gathering is that people talk about politics & present situations in Tibet & share their thoughts which refreshes us about the recent & past sacrifices made by our brothers & sisters in Tibet and we come up with new ideas about what we do next.”
     - Kunsang Gyaltsen, Boston, MA

“I absolutely disagree with TYC’s decision to refrain from celebrating Losar 2012. Losar plays an enormous role in Tibetan culture and therefore we are neglecting to see the bigger issue here. By not celebrating Losar, we are in fact losing our sense of culture. Although, I discern TYC’s motive for Losar expenses to be used for the special fund but with great minds put together that can be attained on the side. The festival happens only once a year and actually is the only Tibetan holiday unlike most other cultures. Without Losar, what do we have left to celebrate? Our means of communications with one another is one of the biggest roles in the aspect of cultural preservation. Like mankind, we Tibetans, are social beings and therefore by mourning in silence is not the brightest policy.”
     - Karma Dolma 19, Quincy, MA

‘Cancelling Losar will not be what any of our pawos would have wanted and would achieve nothing in the short and long term goals of the freedom struggle. We always celebrate when there is no demonstrations or trouble in Tibet but that is when the real danger is. This is when China is winning as silence kills slowly but surely. When we have these demonstrations and show of strength from the people inside Tibet we maybe upset to on hearing the news but it is the reality of a freedom struggle against an evil regime. By not celebrating we will be doing the CCP’s job for them. Why not celebrate Losar but charge double what we normally do, half going to the cause or have donations boxes. I rather pay double then not celebrate our most important cultural event of the year. We can pay our respects by holding 30/60 minute prayers.”
     - Tashi Gonkatsang 31 London, United Kingdom

All these opinions are clear, concise, and well constructed. The cons of canceling Losar are evident. Almost all the reasons developed by those individuals seem to cover cultural preservation, communal gatherings and interaction, finance and funding, and the rarity of the occasion. These young individuals are obviously unhappy with the possibility of their New Year being canceled........again. They have every right to be. Our cultural memory takes a big hit when we continuously decide to forgo Losar celebrations. It was strategic and historical in 2009, disappointing yet acceptable in 2010 but the thought of it happening again in 2012 perplexes me.

Why continuously cancel an occasion that not only sustains but also accelerates our resistance movement?

Instead of relying on a passive form of solidarity such as mourning, we should focus on formulating innovative and energetic strategies that can actually reinforce and expedite the growth of our movement. There are many ways we can pay our respects and at the same time follow through with some of the important responsibilities I have covered. Extended prayers can be held to pay homage to those brave Pawos who have sacrificed their lives. We can cancel the typical late night dance party and abstain from the usual gambling. We can make the gatherings more educational by incorporating unprecedented workshops and discussions to the agenda. Creativity has no limits!

Canceling the most important holiday would be useless. Instead, we should use Losar to maximize our efforts. Tashi Gonkatsang from the United Kingdom pointed out something that is useful and doable. In the article, TYC suggests that we should cancel Losar and donate all expenses that are usually spent during the celebrations to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Tibetan communities and non-profit organizations actually raise a lot of funds from the events. Tashi suggests that we should increase the entrance fee this Losar so that we can raise more funds than we usually do. Maybe we can donate some or most of the profits to the CTA.

The combination of Tashi's idea and the ones I mentioned previously can help stabilize this feeling about the holiday. We do not need to forgo these celebrations. Tibetans in exile have every right to experience Losar. Children who face an identity crisis here in the West should not be limited to these rituals once every three years. Not only does it distort their cultural memory, it prevents them from re-establishing their very own identity as Tibetans.

Although I am completely against the "No Losar" campaign this year, it is not the main reason why I wrote this article. We have every right to celebrate or cancel our New Year. It is a personal choice. If you think you should spend your Losar mourning, then go ahead. The objective of this article is to establish a platform on which we can discuss these topics. This is certainly not a black/white issue. It requires observation, vision, and considerable thought. Please revise and think over the pros and cons of this action.

I am not using the Facebook discussion and the authors to prove that canceling Losar is wrong. Five convincing testimonies do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 6 million people. I am simply using these ideas as motivation to help people understand the issue better. TYC sent a powerful appeal letter to Tibetans all over the world about what it thinks we should do to commemorate the martyrs. The points in my article oppose that notion. Solidarity can be accomplished and established in so many active ways. If you feel the same way, then please speak up and voice your opinions so that our government and our organizations can truly represent us.

My name is Olo Bayul and I am a 1.5 generation Tibetan. I want to celebrate Losar 2012. What about you?

“This is after 52 years of oppression and assimilation. The Tibetan culture will never die. Take that China!”

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