One half a century ago, the Chinese people marching as Communists invaded my country, Tibet. It was then a distinct nation with clear borders, a unique culture, its own language and architecture. In 1959, tens of thousands of Tibetans rose up to protest this illegal Chinese occupation of the Tibetan homeland, but we were no match for that massive, well armed country. When the uprising failed, His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled to India and about 80,000 Tibetans followed him into exile there. Another 1.2 million Tibetans died as a direct result of the invasion and subsequent occupation. In addition, 6,000 monasteries, hallmarks of the culture, were destroyed. The Chinese gave their own people huge incentives to move in and take over, making Tibetans a shunned minority in their own home.
Although I am Tibetan, I have never seen my country. I was born and raised in India, part of the diaspora of those who escaped with their lives, and only by their wits. I am the daughter and granddaughter of Khampa guerillas, men who resisted the Communist People's Liberation Army when it first invaded that part of Tibet which borders China. The Chinese bragged to the world that they came to liberate us. But our experience is that they came to enslave us, to destroy our way of life to clear room for theirs. My father survived, but my grandfather did not. He lost his life trying to protect his people and his homeland.
I myself went into another exile as a member of the Tibetan Re-settlement Project, the first group of Tibetans allowed into the United States. As we readied to come in the early 1990's, we were advised by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be ambassadors of our culture. He told us it was imperative to tell the story of our country, its invasion and destruction in order to educate the world about what actually happened to Tibet, because no story is one-sided and the Chinese speak loudly. Later, at a private audience in 2003, when I was a board member of Bay Area Friends of Tibet, His Holiness again emphasized the urgency of telling the world, especially our Chinese brothers and sisters, about the Tibetan plight. His Holiness also urged those of us in freedom to gather the life stories of the Tibetans who escaped, before they pass away. Their history may be all that remains of our country, the only testimony to its existence.
As a member of the Tibetan generation born in exile in India, I have a responsibility to preserve what is still left of my unique civilization so that it does not perish from this planet. But recording the personal stories of surviving Tibetans not only saves our culture from complete extinction. It shows the rest of the world that we have something of value to offer, something that can perhaps save others too. Particularly, Tibetan culture teaches that all life is precious. Thus, all people are precious, every single and last one is pure and perfect and vital to the well being of all others. This wisdom of interdependence could heal a continually troubled world.
Because lives that have been saved can save lives, I am gathering the stories of these genocide survivors into a narrative that could change the future of everyone. I have established this cultural preservation organization to record as many personal histories as possible. But I can’t do this alone. I need to hear from you so these voices will be heard. Please help.