Tseten Phanucharas, a star of the documentary Dreaming of Tibet, sat down with me after breakfast on the Taos Mountain Film Festival‘s final day.
Phanucharas was born in Tibet but her family left shortly before the Dalai Lama fled in 1959. She now lives in L.A. and works with Los Angeles Friends of Tibet.
Dreaming of Tibet follows several Tibetans, the lives they’ve made for themselves away from their homeland, and the longing they feel for their fading traditions and customs.
Outside: What are you most worried about with regard to Tibetan culture?
Tseten Phanucharas: One of worries I have is that now so many Tibetans are immigrating to the U.S., Canada, and Europe [as opposed to the groups that moved to India en masse during the late 50s and 60s]. It is much tougher when you are just one of a thousand minorities. This melting pot is very dangerous for maintaining Tibetan culture.
O: What do you miss most about Tibet?
TP: What I value the most about my heritage — especially putting it modern context — is the Tibetan value system. What my grandparents and parents taught me: if you go down a path of materialism you can never satisfy it. Overall the culture has a pervasive thing about compassion. For example, I remember as a child, you never refused a beggar … and there were a lot of beggars.
O: How were you approached about this movie?
TP: They wanted to add a person for the story that would make it more interesting for Americans. I was recommended because I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve been an activist for many years.
O: What is your biggest fear with regard to Tibet’s future?
TP: If some kind of a settlement [with China] is not reached within His Holiness’ lifetime it will be very tough to reach a peaceful result because the younger Tibetans are not as patient. It could potentially turn violent … and His Holiness recognizes that would be suicide. The population in Tibet is six million and China has an army of four million.
O: What is your greatest hope?
TP: That the Chinese leadership finally recognizes that the Dalai Lama is the best friend they could ever have in the world. No person gives them more credit and is more amenable to dialogue than he is. Because the Dalai Lama is not asking for independence. He’s asking for autonomy: control over internal affairs for people to be able to practice their religion freely, to preserve their cultural traditions, and not make some kind of mockery of it. Currently they are turning Tibet into a Disney Land for the sake of tourism dollars. Tibetans live in constant fear. Things are so bad you wouldn’t even believe.