New York City is the epicenter of the diasporas of international cultures that is America. This is the first in a series of articles that examines the different ethnic groups’ attempts at preserving their culture and heritage in the forever evolving landscape of New York City. This article is based on an interview with a prominent Tibetan in the community, Lobsang Rampa. His name has been altered upon his request
The Tibetan community maintains offices known simply as Tibet Office in every state in the US. The one in New York City is housed in the Armenian Church on 33rd St and 2nd Avenue and oversees the activities in the Tristate area. These offices are entirely funded by donations from the Tibetan community. These activities include major Tibetan festivals and events, like Losar or New Year, Buddha’s birthday, which usually falls on the 15th day of the 4th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar and similar events that are directed toward the Tibetan community, especially the youth, both those born in the US and those who have migrated from Tibet under the refugee status.. The Tibetan calendar runs from Spring to Spring, or April to February or March depending on the position of the moon.
According to Lobsang, opportunities for education for Tibetan speaking youth is limited. Added to that are financial obstacles of the community. His vision for the future is that an ideal and vibrant Tibetan community will develop and have the same status on par with other minorities in the US, able to maintain and sustain a culture of continuity, bridge and overcome the political and economic barriers and strengthen intergenerational ties. He fears that in as little in 50 years their language may be lost to the next generation and beyond if corrective steps are not taken and they may end up like the Native Americans in this country. He mentions a social scientist, who in 1950 had predicted the death of Tibetan culture. Fortunately, it did not come to pass. Along with this, the medium of instruction in the Tibet region, with the exception of monasteries, has been changed to mandarin by the Chinese authorities.
On the international level, Tibetans are forced to integrate themselves into various ethnic communities in the countries of residence, for lack of a centralized and permanent geographical location. According to Lobsang, their situation has stark similarities with that of the Jewish community prior to the establishment of Israel on May 14, 1948.
On the plus side, according to Lobsang, the unintended positive effects of displacement of Tibetans around the world has resulted in a surge in the efforts to preserve the Tibetan culture. Monasteries in Tibet have played a major role in this effort, along with the 100 monasteries located in India, where the majority of the Tibetans reside at the invitation of the Indian government. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama resides in Dharamsala, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh in India.
The advent of technological advances in media and global networking sites have contributed to a cultural revolution of another kind. Tibetan movies and music are now mainstream, with the website phayul.com getting thousands of visitors to get a glimpse of Tibetan life. Incidentally, the word ‘phayul’ means homeland.
But according to Lobsang, excessive globalization has also resulted in a loss of cultural identity for Tibetans at the local levels.
The multitude of Tibetan Buddhist Center around the world have been set up specifically for foreigners to experience Tibetan culture. These also serve as an outlet for Tibetan arts and crafts.
I am grateful to Lobsang Rampa for making this article possible.