News and Views on Tibet

Who am I?

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By Yangkyab Gyal

My parents gave me the name Yangkyab Gyal. This name means “Victorious Deeds of the Holy Spirits.” I wonder, now, how my parents were so courageous to do so when I was born in 1966. At that time, Chinese names like those of Revolutionary Heroes were given to a child in order to please our local Bosses. Religion was a poison to the whole country.

I knew nothing about Tibetans while I was growing up in the village and looking after our yak, sheep and donkeys. My only concern at the time was to figure out what water and which grass was better for my animals. Nobody told me about Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

I believed Chairman Mao was our national hero. I believed my parents were “Green-Brain People.” That is how the government taught us to label traditional minded people. This title exactly fit my own parents. So tell me who am I?

Chairman Mao died and now I was growing up. I heard some songs without music. I saw Tibetan dresses with colorful ornaments. I wanted to be a Tibetan. I tried very hard: reading books in Tibetan, singing songs in Tibetan, listening to aged people tell their local stories. But, this way of acting was not fashionable. Insulting my Tibetan heritage followed me wherever I went. Even some of my fellow Tibetans did not like being Tibetan. So tell me who am I?

I became sick and tired of this. I ran into exile, leaving behind my beloved parents and family members. I managed to go into Nepal. But my every step was illegal there. My face was illegal there. Whenever I saw a policeman, my heart beat faster. Whenever I went out, the fear of being imprisoned followed me. So tell me who am I?

I managed to get into India. I walked into the street of McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala. I was blessed by my beloved leader, the Dalai Lama. I sought an identity for myself. I found it: “I am one of the Dalai Lama’s people.” I felt good. One day, local Indians wrecked my room, breaking my windows into pieces. My fellow Tibetans were scared, and I had to hide in a toilet for a night. “All undocumented Tibetans will be expelled!” Rumors were everywhere. So tell me who am I?

If you are a visitor to Dharamsala, you may think of the beauty of this land. You may see the smiling faces of the Tibetan people. But you may never go beyond the smiles and the beauty. Where are your legal resident documents? Where are your legal property documents? Where are your legal birth documents? Every single Tibetan living in Dharmasala faces these problems. So tell me who am I?

I managed to get a fake Driving License by paying 40 Indian Rupees. I managed to get a fake Residency Permit by paying 300 Indian Rupees. I felt I was OK to walk into the streets with these papers. But I wanted to check how far my papers could go. I found my driving license number was not registered in the official database. If they caught me in any accident, they were going to destroy me. I did not trust my papers anymore. So tell me who am I?

I was invited to America to attend to a conference. Taking up opportunities, I stayed here for a while. I managed to get Asylum through my own background. But people around me blame me, saying I want to stay here in America because of the better life. I swear to you that I do not want to stay here because of the better life. I am more satisfied with my own tsampa and my own tent. So tell me who am I?

My home country is now no more on the world map. My language is now no more an official language. My knowledge of my culture is now no more of value. My fellow refugees are now everywhere seeking to be legal. My fellow Tibetans in Tibet are now no more Tibetans. A red star was marked on my mother’s passport. So tell me who am I?

If I had the chance, I would go to Tibet to manage a newspaper. If I had the chance, I will go to Tibet to feed my animals. If I had the chance, I would go to Tibet to teach the Tibetans there. But I do not see any signs that my wishes can come true. My kids want me to take them to Florida to see Disneyworld. I want to go to Lhasa instead of to Disneyworld. So tell me who am I?

I know who I am. I am a person whose birth took place at the wrong time in the wrong place. I am a person who lost his identity 16 years before his birth. I am a person who is of no value on this planet. I am a person whose nationality deserves death in this century. However, I won’t let this happen that easily. I will keep my hopes so high until my death. I will work on whatever I can to preserve my identity. I know some fellow Tibetans out there who work for the same goals as I do. Let’s stop crying.

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