Tibetan community mobilizes for protests
Mercury News[Tuesday, April 08, 2008 15:01]
RALLIES SET AS OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY COMES TO S.F.

By Jessie Mangaliman

Usha Lama is expecting eight or nine people at her home in Fremont. Jamyang Nordup is ready for up to 50 people at his 3,500-square-foot home in Richmond and has been collecting bedding for months. Stanford University graduate Yangchen Lhamo is sharing her small one-bedroom in San Francisco's Sunset district with four cousins from Portland and Seattle. Sunnyvale resident Tenzin Tethong is expecting a guest or two from New York.

An army of 2,000 exiled Tibetans from across the United States, bedrolls at the ready, began descending on the Bay Area on Monday to protest the running of the Beijing Olympic torch in San Francisco on Wednesday.

But instead of hotels, most of them will stay at no cost in the homes of the Bay Area's 1,200 fellow Tibetans and their supporters. Some will stay at a Tibetan monastery in San Jose. The organization behind the housing of this impromptu protest army is a testament to the links that bind all Tibetans, a network-savvy diaspora of exiles who have been fighting China for statehood for a half-century. Many were exiled from Tibet more than 50 years ago, after China took over.

With the recent unrest and China's crackdown in their ancestral homeland, they are hoping to steal the limelight away from the traveling torch that eventually will light the Olympic flame in Beijing in August, and turn the world's attention instead toward what they call Chinese repression and human rights abuses in Tibet.

A rally is scheduled this afternoon at San Francisco City Hall and the Chinese Consulate in advance of the relay. As in Paris and London, the torch's previous stops, disruptions are expected at the San Francisco relay. On Monday, protesters climbed a giant cable of the Golden Gate Bridge, unfurling a "Free Tibet" banner.
"Tibetans feel the wrong that's happening should be corrected," said Tethong, 59, a Sunnyvale resident and chairman of the Committee of 100 for Tibet, one of the many Bay Area groups supporting the protest.

"The exile community is just responding in a powerful way," he said, "very emotionally and passionately."

Many of the Bay Area's Tibetan residents responded to the call for housing volunteers, said Tsering Youdon of Richmond, one of the housing coordinators. Protesters arriving from Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Salt Lake City; Portland, Ore.; Seattle and Toronto will bunk with relatives. Others will meet their hosts for the first time when they arrive.

"Most Tibetan kids have been going to protests since we could walk," said 22-year-old Lhamo, a 2007 graduate of Stanford University who is part of SF Team Tibet, a non-profit group that organized the relay protest.

"That's very much part of our sense of community," she said, "to take part in all of this." Lhamo's parents were exiled from Tibet in the 1960s and, like many Tibetans, moved to Dharmsala in India to join their leader, the Dalai Lama.

Lhamo's four cousins, and perhaps four of their friends, will bunk in her small apartment in the Sunset district.

Although the Tibetan cause has longstanding support from the Bay Area, some residents disagree with the protest linking the Olympics with Tibet.

"I just think it's improper," said Ivy Wu, president of the Fremont Unified School District board of education. As a Chinese-American, Wu said, she was "greatly offended and disgusted by what many are doing to sabotage this event."

"The Olympic Games is about peace and harmony and to bring the world together," she said. "We need to stick with that instead of politicizing it."

Scores of Tibetans are likely to arrive without having arranged housing before. But organizers said SF Team Tibet will try to find housing for them, Youdon said. Volunteers at the San Francisco International Airport will greet arriving Tibetans and give directions for taking public transportation to the rally site in San Francisco.

The Gyuto Vajrayana Center, a Tibetan monastery in San Jose, will also host a few people returning from today's rally. But the center's founder, Thupten Donyo, a Tibetan monk, declined to say how many will stay at the center.

"Our neighbors may not like it," he said.

Richmond resident Nordup, 51, vice president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, had no such worries.

He plans to provide a pallet on the floor of his home for 50 Tibetans attending the protest and rally.

"I feel it is my duty," he said. "Why shouldn't we? This is a golden opportunity."

Fremont travel agent Lama, 53, is hosting travelers too. A Nepalese, she is married to a Tibetan, Dorji Lama, a retired engineer.

"We are part of the community," she said. "At this time, when people are coming from all different parts, this is just pure helping the community."

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