AAPI Heritage Month: Citizenship In An Exiled Nation

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What does it mean to live in exile? To be a minority within a minority? To call oneself “Tibetan-American?”As young Tibetan exiles, a sense of physical security in our adopted country is almost always accompanied by a kind of emotional distance. As a people who’ve been dislocated, all we have left is the memory of our lost country.

I remember when my refugee mother once told me that her “soul lives in Tibet.” Although born in an independent Tibet, she became stateless after fleeing the Chinese invasion and occupation when the communists seized power in 1949. Forced into exile, she had to cross the Himalayas to Nepal as a child and start a new life in India. Again resettling in the US, she finally gained citizenship in a country not her own. I was born in India but had the privilege of coming here as a child and, thus, had less difficulty adapting to a new country as an immigrant. My mother may have a greater sense of freedom here, but she still mourns for Tibet. Yet, despite the severe trauma she endured, she still finds happiness in her memories of her ancestral homeland. I realize now that I was raised with a similar longing for a lost nation. The difference between my mother and I, however, is that I only know Tibet in my imagination.

image3I wanted to talk about my Tibetan-American identity at a time of increasing self-immolations inside Tibet and increasing racial tensions inside the US. In places like Ferguson and Baltimore, peaceful protests have been glossed over by the media in favor of scenes depicting graphic violence, no doubt for fleeting ratings boost. When I see such images, I can’t help but be reminded of the distorting of the peaceful protests in Tibet during the summer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The state media portrayed Tibetans as violent “thugs” targeting the dominant ethnic group, Han Chinese, in a so-called “autonomous region” that once was an independent Tibetan state.

Now scattered throughout the world due to resettlement, the Tibetan diaspora has begun an internal dialogue on issues influenced by our host countries. Reconciling such issues with our own cultural history has been the greatest challenge for many Tibetan youth like myself. One important distinction that should be made here is that as an exiled nation, our culture has become a sort of collective body of trauma. And while the first generation of Tibetan exiles may not be the last, young Tibetans cannot move forward until the world acknowledges our history and, therefore, our existence.

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On our part, we as a community need to admit this and encourage fellow Tibetans to seek help and engage in he healing process of dialogue when they need it. For example, there is a severe lack of culturally appropriate community health resources at the present moment. That said, these spaces are slowly growing and emerging as we engage in a larger public conversation among our communities. In the Tibetan community, this has caused fear and doubt among some—particularly the older, more conservation generations.

The existence of white privilege and patriarchy also factor into this fear of difference. Having inherited the trauma of our elders and our parents’ generation, we now carry the pain of our ancestors with us as we grow and shape our identity. But collective trauma requires collective healing. The sooner we come to realize this, the sooner we will truly be free.


11328795_10206782038535856_309932531_nTenzin Pelkyi is currently a J.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota, where she received her B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies. While in law school, she worked as a law clerk at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for Senator Amy Klobuchar in Washington, D.C. She also worked as a research assistant at the law school’s Energy Transition Lab and as a law intern for the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition to serving as president of her Law School Democrats chapter and as a member of the law school’s Diversity Week committee, Pelkyi has received widespread recognition for her advocacy, including from her university, several bar associations, and the Dalai Lama Trust.

Prior to law school, she worked in the nonprofit sector for various progressive organizations, legislative affairs at the state capitol, and community organizing in the Tibetan community. Her interests include immigrant rights, reproductive health, and racial justice. You can keep updated with Tenzin on Facebook and Twitter.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


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AAPI Heritage Month: Dare to Be Different. Explore. Live a Little.

Source - http://www.flickriver.com/photos/vineethtm/8742638807/

Rainbow Interstate, Minneapolis – Vineeth Mekkat Source – http://www.flickriver.com/photos/vineethtm/8742638807/

I am the eldest daughter and grew up in a large family. I always felt overwhelmed with all the duties that were given to me. The housework, the child care tasks, the cooking responsibilities and so forth. All the nitty gritty dirty work was my responsibility. I was always expected to accomplish these tasks whether I liked it or not and I am still expected to tend to these responsibilities today. My parents are extremely traditional. I come from a patriarchal society. I’m not going to sit here and support the idea that men are at the top of the spectrum, but the disparity is definitely present. It’s disappointing that this inequality exist and nobody’s doing anything about it, or at least nobody’s talking about it. I know we see it. I know we feel it. I know we have all experienced it. Perhaps, we feel it’s taboo. Perhaps, we are scared of the consequences. Or maybe we just feel like nobody’s going to listen. The moment I speak out about how unfair these standards are, I am considered disobedient and disrespectful. It has always been a cycle of oppression. In my culture, men are born with privileges and power. Women have to work their entire lives in order to gain even the slightest amount of power and respect.

I consider myself blessed and privileged to be able to attend college, an opportunity that many people do not have. I am a first generation college student, so neither one of my parents nor grandparents have had a proper education. Being a first generation college student is very difficult. I am the first daughter in my family to go to college. My parents emigrated to the United States to escape the refugee camps of Thailand. They escaped a war torn country in hopes of acquiring the necessary tools to survive in a land that was unfamiliar to them, America. When I talk to my parents, I see that they value education very much; I see the desire in their struggles to push my siblings and I to do well in school. Like most other Hmong families, my family values education, however, there are stigmas, especially for Hmong women and girls in higher education. The academic achievements of the women and girls are often overlooked in my family. My brothers are encouraged and highly praised for going to college, but my efforts go without notice. Some of my family members even doubt I will ever finish college. But, here I am today with a college degree and a job that pays me well.

You have to work hard in order to get where you want to be. Life does not come with instructions. You start from scratch and unearth your own recipe. You throw in your own spices and create it to your liking. If something does not fit in, get rid of it. If something appeals to you, add it in. You just have to keep adding and adjusting until you get the ideal recipe.

One thing that I have always struggled with was my sexual orientation. Shifting gender disparities aside, my sexual orientation is probably the biggest struggle I’ve dealt with.  A few years ago, I posted a public blog post revealing my sexual orientation and shortly after, I received a very nasty message from an anonymous person. The nature of the message was essentially telling me that those who are attracted to the same sex are disgusting and should be shunned by society.

Growing up, I never felt that I was different. I knew I was always attracted to boys, but I also found girls to be attractive. I never saw this as being different from others. It was just a natural feeling to me; so, I thought everyone felt the same way, but the older I got, the more difficult things had become. High school was an overwhelming experience and made me realize that if you didn’t find a clique to hang out with then you were the odd sheep out. I was indeed the odd sheep out. I was rebellious. I was a tomboy and only wore jeans, band t-shirts, and skater shoes. There, I had cut my hair for the first time. My hair went from short, to mullet, to spikes. I was defiant, but I was still a good student. I was in the top 20 of my graduating class and was only one of the few Hmong students who took AP classes. I mostly kept to myself, but I knew some people because we had classes together. I had my first relationship my senior year of high school and it was a first for a lot of things.

I dated my first girlfriend a few months before my high school graduation. We were young and so in love. In the beginning, we kept our relationship a secret. She was opened about her sexual orientation, but I tried to hide mine as much as I could. Not because I was ashamed, but because I was afraid of the backlash from my Hmong community. The more secretive I became, the more my friends started questioning me. I eventually gave in and came out to my closest friends first. I knew I couldn’t keep my relationship a secret forever. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I had to overcome it. Some of them said they saw it coming; others were taken aback by my confession, but still accepted me. The next step was to come out to my family. I didn’t want to do it all in one big step, so I came out to my siblings. Surprisingly, they were very supportive of me. They did not judge me and they did not question me at all. They supported my relationship with my girlfriend the whole time we were together.

Now, all who were left to tell was my parents. There were many instances in which I thought I was ready to come out to my parents. However, every time I approached them, my whole body would go numb. I would be at a loss of words and I would tell myself that I didn’t have to force myself to tell them if I wasn’t ready yet. I never did gather up enough courage to tell my parents. To this day, my parents still do not know. I don’t know if I will ever tell them.  

I used to be bothered about my sexual orientation. There was a point in my life when I was upset at myself because I couldn’t turn away my own feelings. Somehow, I felt like I had disappointed my parents being the oldest daughter with their high expectations for me. So when I started discovering my sexual preferences, I knew I was treading on dangerous waters. I always thought hiding my sexual orientation would eventually make all the feelings disappear, but I’ve learned to accept it as a part of who I am. I’m not ashamed to tell people that I am attracted to people of all sexual identities. Society brainwashes our perceptions and views on everything. The moment we sense unfamiliar presence in the air, we become judgmental. Our minds have been trained so well that we automatically single out anybody who dares to be a little different, but I say, “Dare to be different. Explore. Live a little.”


 

Pax is a writing fanatic who draws her inspiration from the people in her every day life. She hails from the Twin Cities. On her spare time, she likes to people watch, dance to Pitbull music and sing along to sappy Hmong songs. She is obsessed with dream catchers, green tea lattes, and absolutely believe her spirit animal is a wolf. She wears mix matched socks, but hates sleeping with her socks on. She hoards stationery cards and has boxes of them under her bed collecting dust. She is a woman of few words, but her thoughts can silence an entire city. You can follow Pax on tumblr.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com