Tibetan americans

by Olivia Miller


Tibet is officially known as the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. Located in the highlands of southwest China, Tibet is approximately 14,800 feet above sea level. It has a land area of 463,320 square miles, which is twice the size of Texas, and is home to five million people. With a history dating back to 127 B.C. , Tibet was an independent country until 1949, when it was invaded and occupied by the People's Republic of China.

Lhasa is Tibet's capital and only major city. Tibetan is the language spoken by most of the province's native peoples, even though Chinese is recognized as the official language. Until 1949, Tibet's national religion was Lamaism Buddhism, which was headed by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is revered by Tibetans as the spiritual and political leader of the nation. The current Dalai Lama lives in exile in India, where he heads a community of 120,000 Tibetan refugees. He leads an international campaign to regain Tibet's freedom and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts. Until the early 1980s, Tibet was virtually inaccessible to Westerners.

The Tibetan flag consists of a yellow border around alternating vertical bands of blue and red. The center of the flag contains a snow-capped mountain peak with a yellow sun above. Below the peak are two swirling jewels that are held between two lions facing each other.


According to tradition, Tibetans trace their ancestry to the copulation of an ape, a manifestation of wisdom, and an ogress, a form of the goddess Tara, whose offspring gave birth to the Tibetan people. Monkey gods are part of the religious folklore of India and other Buddhist countries. Chinese scholars claim that Tibetans descended from the Quiang, nomadic shepherds of western China who first appeared around 1000 B.C. During its history, Tibet has ruled parts of China, India, Nepal, central Asia, and the Middle East. The Tibetan nation gained world prominence in the sixth and seventh centuries as a silk and spice trading center. The Mongolians under Genghis Khan conquered Tibet during the Middle Ages, but bestowed political power on the head of the Lamanists Buddhist organization. In the seventeenth century, China gained sovereignty over Tibet and ruled until the British invaded in 1904. At the Anglo-Chinese convention in 1906, the Chinese again were recognized as the sovereign power in Tibet. By 1907, the governments of Britain and Russia agreed not to interfere in Tibetan affairs. The Tibetans rebelled against China in 1912 and expelled all Chinese officials.

"[O] ne night the Chinese Communists came there. They were shooting guns, machine guns, you know. So we were all scared. There were eight hundred of us in that monastery–it was a small monastery for Tibet. Only six of us made it away."

Labring Sakya, cited in American Mosaic: The Immigrant Experience in the Words of Those Who Lived It, Joan Morrison and Charlotte Fox Zabusky, (E.P. Dutton, New York, 1980).


The People's Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1949 and, after defeating the small Tibetan army, established control of the province. For nearly ten years after the Chinese invasion, the Dalai Lama remained in Tibet. In 1959, the Tibetans rebelled against the Chinese. The People's Liberation Army crushed the uprising, killing more than 87,000 Tibetans. The Dalai Lama, members of his government, and roughly 80,000 Tibetans escaped from Tibet. They sought political asylum in India, Nepal and Bhutan, and announced the formation of a Tibetan government-in-exile. The government of India welcomed the Tibetan refugees, but did not grant recognition to the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile. Since 1959, fifty-four refugee settlements have been established in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. More than 1.2 million Tibetans died as a result of the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. The United Nations passed three resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961, and 1965 expressing concern over human rights violations. The Tibetan government-in-exile has been reorganized along democratic principles in order to preserve Tibetan culture and education, and seek the restoration of Tibet's freedom. Tibetan people throughout the world consider this government- in-exile, which is based in Dharamsala, India, to be the sole legitimate government of Tibet.

The Chinese military presence in Tibet is estimated to number around 500,000 uniformed personnel. China is also believed to have stationed approximately 90 nuclear warheads in Tibet. China's North-west Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Academy, which is located in Tibet's northeastern area of Amdo, is reported to have dumped an unknown quantity of radioactive waste on the Tibetan plateau. In 1999, various pro-Tibet organizations protested the World Bank's funding of China's WPRP project, which involved the transfer of about 61,775 non-Tibetan settlers into Tibet. The Chinese government has actively encouraged Chinese emigration to Tibet and Tibetans have become a minority within their own country.

By the late 1990s there were over 120,000 Tibetans in exile, including more than 5,000 living outside of the Indian subcontinent. Large numbers of Tibetans continue to leave their country in order to escape Chinese persecution. Many of these exiles have sought the assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), foreign donor agencies, and the governments of India, Nepal, and Bhutan.


The earliest Tibetans immigrating to the United States were classified as "other Asian," and immigration records show that between 1881 and 1890, 1,910 "other Asians" were admitted. It is not known how many of these were from Tibet. The Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1949 prompted an exodus of Tibetans, most of who settled in neighboring India, although some came to the United States as refugees. Refugees are considered non-immigrants when initially admitted into the United States but are not included in non-immigrant admission data. Therefore, ancestry records are the most revealing indicators of the Tibetan American population. According to the 1990 U. S. Census, there were 2,185 Americans with Tibetan and other Asian ancestry. Most, if not all, Tibetan Americans have arrived as refugees. The Refugee Act of 1980 allowed refugee admission of persons for whom the United States expressed humanitarian concerns. Transportation arrangements to the United States are usually made through the International Organization for Migration. Refugees are expected to repay the cost of their transportation. At the port of entry, the Immigration and Naturalization Service admits the refugees officially to the United States and authorizes employment.

As part of the Immigration Act of 1990, 1,000 displaced Tibetans were given special immigrant visas and have since resettled throughout the United States. The 18 Tibetans who entered in 1993 as refugees had not been granted asylum by 1997, according to a U. S. State Department report. Tibetans, classified as citizens of China, were not eligible to participate in the 1998 DV-99 diversity lottery. The diversity lottery is conducted under the terms of Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.


The majority of Tibetan Americans have settled in southern California, where Tibetan Buddhism is the fastest growing branch of Buddhism. Forty percent of all Buddhists in the United States live in California. Approximately 90 Tibetan families are scattered throughout southern California, most of them assisted by the Los Angeles Friends of Tibet Association. The Tibetan American community is close-knit and supportive.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Many Tibetan Americans keep their cultural tradition of having only one name. Like other refugees with limited education, Tibetan Americans often take menial jobs in the community. However, unlike other refugees, Tibetan Americans often receive extensive aid from local organizations because the plight of Tibetans is widely publicized. For example, the Tibetan Association of Ithaca, New York, and Area Friends of Tibet sponsors an annual Week of Tibet, with events that celebrate Tibetan culture, foods, folk dancing, and fund-raising for Tibetan causes. Similarly, the Tibetan Cultural and Community Service Center (TCCSC) of California provides social services and referrals to the Tibetan

This Tibetan American Buddhist is attending a Lollapalooza concert.
This Tibetan American Buddhist is attending a Lollapalooza concert.
community. Many Tibetans across the nation have received housing and clothing assistance, financial and legal assistance, and immigration and citizenship training from the TCCSC. The TCCSC also provides counseling to Tibetans so that they can become self-reliant, which is an important step toward eventual self-determination. The TCCSC has been recognized as a member of the Asian Pacific Planning Council and honored by the City of Los Angeles and the California Assembly.


Tibetans do not use surnames, preferring single or double first names. For men, a middle name is given by the lama, a Buddhist holy man. Tibetans throw tsampa, roasted barley flour, into the air to celebrate marriages, birthdays, New Year's Day, and all other important events. The tradition dates from the seventh century, when it was a formality at the enthronement of kings. At New Year's celebrations, two people would meet. One person would make an offering, then take a pinch from the tip of a mound of tsampa and throw it into the air, yelling, " Tashi Delek. " The person receiving the offering would then recite: "Tashi Delek, good fortune and good health, May you achieve unchanging happiness, and may it ever increase." Throwing tsampa in the air is an expression of good wishes for one's own and others' happiness and for the overcoming of all obstacles.

Many of the Tibetans' values are established through their Buddhist beliefs. Vajras (prayer wheels

Two Tibetan American Buddhists wait to perform the Black Hat Dance in Newark, New Jersey.
Two Tibetan American Buddhists wait to perform the Black Hat Dance in Newark, New Jersey.
that are spun clockwise), bells, and beads are important in Tibetan Buddhism. Vajras may have nine, five, or three spokes. The upper sets of spokes of a five-spoked vajra symbolize the five wisdoms of Buddhism. A bell can be eight, twelve, sixteen, eighteen or twenty-two finger-widths in height. Its base must be round, above which is a vase surmounted by the face of the goddess Prajnaparamita. Above these are a lotus, a moon disc, and finally a vajra. The hollow of the bell symbolizes the wisdom recognizing emptiness. The clapper represents the sound of emptiness. The eight lotus petals are the four mothers and four goddesses, and the vase represents the vase containing the nectar of accomplishment.

Paired with the vajra, the bell represents wisdom, and as wisdom and method are an undivided unity, so the vajra and bell are never parted or employed separately. Beads are mainly used to count mantras (prayers). Beads made of bodhi seed or wood can be used for many purposes, such as counting all kinds of mantras. The string common to all beads should consist of nine threads, which symbolize Buddha Vajradhara and the eight Bodhisattvas. The large bead at the end stands for the wisdom that recognizes emptiness and the cylindrical bead surmounting it, emptiness itself; both symbolize having vanquished all opponents.


Tibetans liberally sprinkle proverbs into daily conversations as a substitute for slang phrases. Proverbs have balance and rhythm, but do not rhyme. Some examples include the following: Whatever happiness is in the world, it has arisen from a wish for the welfare of others; Whatever misery is in the world, it has arisen from a wish for our own welfare; Look not on the height of the mountain, but look at the size of the mountain (tackle the problem where you are); Those who do not love comfort can do 100 deeds, those who cannot love hardship cannot do one deed; If one does not cross the doorstep's sill, one cannot arrive anyplace; A braggart has no courage; Muddy water has no depth; Having eaten together, you should agree in counsel (sharing food together has a special significance of friendship); The life of all living beings is like the bubbles of water; The stripes of wild beasts are on the outside, the stripes of man are on the inside; When the blind escorts the blind, both fall into the river; The ants do not accept each other's lineage (ants touch feelers to ascertain whether friend or foe); If one desires misery, let him buy an aged horse; If one is not happy inside, one's work cannot be done outside; If the mouth and stomach are considered first, then promise and debts follow later; One mouth, two tongues (means two-faced); If one is without soup on earth, of what use is a ladle in heaven?; After calling a dog, one should not beat him; A hoe digs, a broom sweeps (everything has its proper use); and When a man becomes old, he thinks of his homeland.


Tibetan restaurants are now found in many U. S. cities. Tibetan foods are practical reflecting the nomadic and often severe lifestyle of Tibetans. Cuisine tends toward oils, dough, spices, and meats that are usually boiled, then stir-fried. Tsampa is a flour ground from highland barley that is mixed with tea or butter. A typical Tibetan dinner begins with spicy cold appetizers followed by a main course of several hot dishes accompanied by noodles or dumplings. Momo are steamed dumplings made with onion, cumin, garlic, minced lamb or beef, and soya sauce. Then thuk is a noodle soup made with fresh spinach, onion, garlic, ginger, and meat. Shamday is a Tibetan curry made with bean thread noodles, ginger, onion, turmeric, lamb or beef, potatoes, and a handful of seaweed. Sha-balé is a deep-fried dough surrounding beef or lamb to form meat pockets seasoned with onion, ginger, garlic, cumin, and soya sauce.


The chant of Tibetan monks is recognized around the world as the music of Tibet. The Tibetans cultivated multiphonic singing, in which a singer intones three simultaneous notes, creating a complete chord. Chanting is accompanied by musical instruments unique to the area such as the dranyem, a traditional stringed instrument. The most unusual Tibetan ritual instruments are long, copper rag-dung trumpets. These straight, conically bored natural horns vary in length from 3 to 20 feet. They are produced in sections that can be telescoped for portability. Each horn has a fairly shallow cup mouthpiece and, like the Western bugle, is capable of producing different tones. These horns are used to play a drone for chanting, sometimes in thirds or fifths. There are also smaller hand trumpets with dragon heads at the bell end. The players tend to concentrate on one note from which they slide up and down. Tibetan copper curved horns, about 15 inches long, are also played at Buddhist celebrations.

Tibetan wind bells are hand-crafted, solid brass wind bells used to keep devils away from the home. The handbell and the dorje are the principal ritual objects of Tantric Buddhism. Traditionally they are used together, the bell in the left hand, the dorje in the right. Representing the passive and active qualities that reach perfection only when united, they function as the yin and yang in the Chinese tradition. The handbell and dorje also represent the union of wisdom and compassion, which is enlightenment. These bells produce an incredible sound when rubbed with a playing stick or when rung.

Tingsha are miniature cymbals that are used to encourage "hungry ghosts" to accept offerings. Tibetans believe that by relieving the ghosts' hunger and making an offering, their suffering is diminished. Enlightenment can be achieved only when all suffering is eliminated. Tingsha have exceptional resonance and sound, excellent for musical accents, healing or spiritual practice. Singing bowls are traditionally struck to produce a complex and beautiful sound that is designed to aid meditation. They are also filled with water, rice, or flowers as offerings to the deities. When circled with a playing stick, singing bowls hum in a voice full of wonderful harmonics and overtones. They are made from a mixture of five to seven metals, hand-turned on a lathe, then hammered to the desired hardness and pitch. Mantras are recited as the bowls are made and, according to Tibetan legend, are absorbed into the metals. These mantras are then released when the bowl is played.


Traditional Tibetan costumes are made from the wool of yaks or sheep. Fabric is woven in relatively narrow widths and long lengths, cut and assembled side-to-side for garments, blankets and other textile uses. The decoration of textiles is achieved by plangi (tie-dying). Typical patterns, often used in various combinations, include circles inscribed with crosses, multicolored stripes, and Buddhist motifs. The use of strong colors is commonplace. Costumes from royal or urban circles in Tibet and Bhutan may be similar in form to the garments of nomadic citizens. However, royal costumes are made of silk and decorated with exquisitely fine, difficult, woven designs.

Most Tibetans wear the nambu, a wool sash about eight inches wide, usually white for poor people and colorful for the wealthy. Many Tibetans also use yak hide boots. These knee-high boots are slit in the back and tied at the top with a colorful garter. The upper portions of the boots are made of leather, felt, or cloth and are often red in color. Men also wear pouches on the right side of their belts to hold a small knife and a pair of chopsticks.

The headdress is the chief adornment for Tibetan women. Because symbols of family wealth are often worn in the hair, married women wear more ornaments than unmarried women. The traditional headdress has a wooden framework covered with coral, pearls, amber, and turquoise. Tibetan women wear jewelry, including bangles, bracelets, and earrings, that are so large that the holes in their earlobes may be an eighth of an inch in diameter. Nomadic Tibetan women smear black ointment on their faces to protect themselves from the harsh climate.

Costumes for rituals usually include a mask, called Ba. Masks serve various functions for the Tibetan people. Some are hung in temples or used in ritual ceremonies, while others are used in theatrical performances. The faces on the masks range from deities to men and animals, with the expressions carved to display a certain characteristic such as honesty, harshness, greed, or humor. According to tradition, masks of Buddha may appear in either benevolent or wrathful manifestations. The Rdo-rjegro-lod, the Wrathful Guardian Deity, and the Bhairava Vajra, the fearful Guardian Deity, are commonly seen in mask design since they symbolize the two deities' doctrines of "wrath" and "fear."


Tibetan dance celebrates an enchanted world of wizards, demons, singing maidens, dancing yaks, acrobatic dances, thunderous horns, and lilting melodies. Two times per year, the great Lama Dances are celebrated. Mahakala Bernagchen is the protector of a lineage honored by the dance ceremony held every year on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth Tibetan month. The second dance ceremony is held on the tenth day of the fourth month

Four ceremonial dancers of a Kalachakra Initiation, a Tibetan Buddhist ritual in Madison, Wisconsin
Four ceremonial dancers of a Kalachakra Initiation, a Tibetan Buddhist ritual in Madison, Wisconsin
to celebrate Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. During the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar, the people dress in festival costumes and jewelry and congregate around their local monastery for special festivities. For these colorful and fascinating ceremonies, all the dancers wear elaborate silk brocade costumes with unusual, unique deity masks. Other Tibetan dances include the Via bo Shana, the black hat dance, which is performed by three people. Ronshu Chinen is a dance performed by the people of northeastern Tibet. Agi Ulu, a harvest dance from southwestern Tibet, is the dance of the maiden Ulu.


Tibetan holidays are mostly Buddhist celebrations. Across the United States, there are roughly 1,100 Buddhist meditation centers serving 1.5 million Buddhists. There are more than 100 different types of Buddhism represented in the United States, and Tibetan Americans have ample opportunities to celebrate Buddhist holidays. Public holidays in Tibet include: January 1, Western New Year's Day, February (for three days), Tibetan New Year's Day; also February (for three days), the Chinese Spring festival; May 1, Labour Day; May 4, Youth Day, June 1, Children's Day; and August 1, Army Day. February (for three days), Tibetan New Year's Day; also February (for three days), the Chinese Spring festival; May 1, Labour Day; May 4, Youth Day, June 1, Children's Day; and August 1, Army Day.


Tibetan medicine is a tradition that has been practiced for over 2500 years and is still used today. Tibetan medicine, which is called gSoba Rig-pa, is a science of healing based on the use of herbs and precious metals. Because Tibetan medicine is effective in its treatment of chronic diseases such as rheumatism, arthritis, ulcers, chronic digestive problems, asthma, hepatitis, eczema, liver problems, sinus problems, anxiety, and problems connected with the nervous system, the Western medical community is now examining it.


Since the Chinese invasion and conquest of Tibet, Chinese has been the official language of commerce and government. It is also the primary language taught in Tibetan schools. But native Tibetans continue to speak their native language. The Tibetan language bears little resemblance to the languages of neighboring China and India. Tibeto-Burman, a language of the Sino-Tibetan family, is based on a form of Sanskrit that originated in India during the seventh century. Sino-Tibetan languages are a family of languages spoken from northeast India eastward to Taiwan and from China southward to the Malay Peninsula. Sino-Tibetan is generally divided into two large subfamilies: the Sinitic, comprising Mandarin, Cantonese, and the other languages of China; and the Tibeto-Burman, the best-known members of which are Tibetan and Burmese. The Tibeto-Burman subfamily, although it encompasses more languages than the Sinitic, and is spoken by a wider variety of ethnic groups, is more difficult to classify. Most linguists recognize four main Tibeto-Burman branches, divided into roughly nine groups. The Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken in Tibet, Nepal, Burma, western China, and the Assam State in India. Sino-Tibetan languages are distinguished from western language families by two main traits: isolating or monosyllabic characters and the use of tones.

Tibetan is most closely related to Burmese and to other spoken dialects of Himalayan peoples, but the written script was adapted from Indian writing. The Tibetan alphabet has 30 letters arranged in eight classes. There are five vowel sounds: "a," "i," "u," "e," "o," pronounced according to the general pronunciation in Latin. There are very few words beginning with any vowel sound, and those are either of Sanskrit origin, interjections, or corrupted words.


Tashidelek means "hello" in Tibetan. An old Tibetan custom sometimes used today is to greet a person by sticking the tongue out and down the face. This was done as a sign of respect for someone of higher social standing, and it was sometimes repeated at the end of every sentence in a conversation. Most Tibetan expressions and greetings relate to Buddhism. Buddha is always referred to, even in passing, as the "victoriously consummate one" because he won perfection after a long and continuous struggle with worldly desires.

Family and Community Dynamics

Nomadic Tibetan family life was structured to preserve their livelihood from tending yaks and surviving on the mountains of Tibet. Young children assumed duties essential to the family's survival. The Chinese conquest of Tibet brought dramatic changes to nomadic family life. Nomadic families were restricted to only one child per household, were stripped of individual ownership of herds and were reorganized into a communal structure. In the Tibetan refugee community in India, the concept of family takes on a greater significance as a way of preserving of Tibetan culture. Most families include several children and often extended relatives. Tibetan Americans maintain strong family bonds. Even if it takes many years, a Tibetan American refugee will work to be reunited with other family members.


The United States Information Agency provides scholarships for Tibetan students and professionals to study in the United States. Over 140 students participated in the program between 1988 and 1997, and almost all returned to India and Nepal upon completion of their studies to assist Tibetan refugee communities there.

Chinese is now the first language in Tibetan schools. Under Chinese authority, Tibetans are provided with inferior schools and untrained teachers. In independent Tibet, monasteries and nunneries, numbering over 6,000, served as schools and universities, fulfilling Tibet's educational needs. In the late 1990s the Tibetan government-in-exile protested to Chinese officials about inadequate school conditions. Only 45 per cent of the children of school age go to primary schools. In Tibet, the best schools are in Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyangtse, Chamdo, Silling, Kyigudo, Dartsedo, and Dechen. But these schools are meant primarily for the children of Chinese citizens. In the Chinese government-funded urban schools, there are separate classes for the Chinese and Tibetan students. The Tibetan government-in-exile allocates 65 percent of its annual budget to the education of Tibetan children. About 92 percent of Tibetan children in exile, aged 6 to 17, attend schools, with about 84 percent of them enrolled in Tibetan schools. Education in exile has produced Tibetan medical doctors, administrators, Ph.D., engineers, post-graduate teachers, journalists, social workers, lawyers, and computer programmers.


Historically, women in Tibet owned land and conducted business with a status equal to that of men except in the spiritual arena, where nuns ( anis ) are regarded as inferior to monks. In some Tibetan monasteries, women are not allowed to enter the chapel out of fear that spirits may be offended. Traditional Tibetan society practiced polyandry, whereby a woman could legally be married to two or three men, usually brothers, simultaneously. The practice developed as a way to prevent land divisions, but was discontinued by the 1990s.

Following China's occupation of Tibet in 1959, thousands of women protested by organizing the Tibetan Women's Association (TWA). The organization was brutally suppressed by Chinese soldiers. In 1984, Tibetan women in exile in India and Nepal reorganized the organization. The TWA's main objective is to raise public awareness of the abuses faced by Tibetan women in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Through extensive publicity and interaction in national and international affairs, TWA alerts the international community to the gender-specific human rights abuses committed against Tibetan women in the form of forced birth control policies, such as sterilizations and abortions, and restrictions on religious, political, social, and cultural freedoms. In 1987, the TWA launched the Tibetan Nuns Project to assist newly exiled nuns with shelter, food, and clothing.

Eleven Tibetan nuns arrived in the United States in April 1999 to conduct a ten-month tour to call attention to the Chinese takeover of Tibet. Temporarily settled in Nevada County, California, the Tibetan native nuns came from the refugee community in Nepal. They were educated in the exile settlements before taking to the road to benefit Tibet through their contact with Americans.


For Tibetans, a wedding is a social event between two communities. The maternal uncle of the bride is the most honored figure at the wedding and presides over the event. In the early morning, the groom's wedding party comes to invite the bride for the wedding ceremony. Guided by her chaperone, the bride is carried piggy-back through her village gate by her older brother. If the bride does not have a brother, she can pick someone as the brother figure. Her wedding party, her close friends and relatives, escort them to the wedding ceremony. The scene is very animated, both by music and by the crying of the bride and her female companions. As the bride is taken away, her villagers line up along their way and sing. The bride's head is covered with a red veil, and her feet do not touch the ground when she leaves her village. Upon arrival, the leader of the bridal party, the maternal uncle, sprinkles sacred water at the entrance of the groom's village. Then there is a ceremony for opening the wedding wine. The bridal party reaches the groom's house, and the bride and her chaperone (maid of honor), dressed exactly alike, sit side-by-side to wait for the groom. The groom must select the true bride, to whom he will have sent certain items as the symbol of their relationship during courtship, usually rings, bracelets or necklaces. The groom is expected to identify their symbolism and lift off the veil without making a mistake.

After the ceremony uniting the couple, the longda, also called the "fortune horse" or the "paper horse," is thrown in the air. The longda is a wood-block-printed horse on paper about two inches wide and four inches long, a tradition from the Tibetan Sacred Horse worship. At weddings or festivals, many Tibetans bring the longda with them to a sacred or high-peaked mountain and throw several longda into the air, letting the wind blow them high and far, like horses running swiftly and serenely. The longda brings humans' wishes to the gods

The wedding guests and participants then form a huge circle, dancing the Guozhan wedding dance. An interesting aspect of this wedding custom is that the newlywed couple cannot spend their wedding night together. After the wedding ceremony, the bride is accompanied by her chaperone, even if staying overnight with the groom's family. The next day, they return to the bride's family and stay at their house for a couple of days. Later, after returning to the groom's home, the couple is finally united.


Typically, Tibetans do not bury their dead. Tibetans cremate their dead or bury them in a sky funeral, considered the only way to ensure rebirth. Specially trained monks hack the body to pieces, grind the bones and flesh, and feed this to the vultures bit by bit. Sky burial sites are located on hills near monasteries.


Tibetans have a long history of political and cultural conflict with China. There is considerable animosity between the Han Chinese living in Tibet and ethnic Tibetans. When Chinese officials have visited the United States, Tibetan Americans have organized protests that have resulted in arrests.


Buddhism encompasses the cultural values and social structure of the Tibetan people. However, Buddhism was preceded by Bön, Tibet's earliest religion, which was founded by Shenrab Miwo of Shangshung in western Tibet. Bön was a religion that involved the violent worship of local mountain and lake spirits. Magic and ritual, including animal sacrifice, was strongly emphasized. With the advent of Buddhism, the Bön religion diminished in influence, although it is still practiced in some areas of Tibet.

Before the Chinese takeover of Tibet, Buddhist monasteries, temples, and hermitages were found in every village and town throughout Tibet. Every Tibetan home had an altar. In 1959 there were a total of more than 6,259 monasteries, with about 592,558 resident monks and nuns. These religious centers housed tens of thousands of statues and religious artifacts made of gold, silver, and other metals studded with jewels. Besides texts on Buddhism, these centers were storehouses of works on literature, medicine, astrology, art, and politics of the Tibetan people.

From 1949 to 1979, China discouraged the practice of any religion in Tibet and many religious artifacts were confiscated. Many of these artifacts were taken to China and destroyed. The majority of monasteries and nunneries in Tibet were also closed. By 1976, only eight monasteries remained in Tibet. Out of Tibet's total of 6,259 monasteries and nunneries, only about eight remained by 1976.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Tibet is 70 percent grassland, and animal husbandry is the occupation of most of the workers in the agrarian economy. The lifestyle is very harsh, with few amenities. Tibetan Buddhist monks are supported by their communities as well as by service jobs. Tibetan Americans work as dairymen, gardeners, and farm laborers. Many Tibetan Americans are Buddhist religious workers. As educational opportunities open for Tibetans, occupational choices beyond the service and manual labor markets are emerging.

Politics and Government

Tibetan associations and lobbying efforts are highly organized in the United States. Holiday Inn Worldwide, which has been faced with an international boycott of its hotel chain since 1993, announced in 1998 that it would not renew its management contract in Tibet, a contract that had been beneficial to the Chinese government. The Holiday Inn's decision aided the growing movement to return control

Tibetan American Tenzin Choezom demonstrates outside of the Chinese Consulate in Houstan for the fortieth anniversary of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, to protest human rights violations by the Chinese government and to demand freedom for Tibet.
Tibetan American Tenzin Choezom demonstrates outside of the Chinese Consulate in Houstan for the fortieth anniversary of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, to protest human rights violations by the Chinese government and to demand freedom for Tibet.
of Tibet's economic affairs to Tibetans. The city of Berkeley, California, passed legislation in the late 1990s which prohibited the city from associating with corporations or individuals that conducted business in Tibet without permission from the Tibetan government-in-exile. The campaign was joined by a coalition of over 50 organizations worldwide. The boycott attracted major grassroots support and celebrity interest and was highlighted at a Tibetan Freedom Concert in New York City.


The United States considers the Tibet Autonomous Region a part of the People's Republic of China. This long-standing policy is consistent with the view of the entire international community, including all of China's neighbors. No country recognizes Tibet as a sovereign state. The United States' acceptance of China's claim of sovereignty over Tibet predates the establishment of the People's Republic of China. However, the United States Congress, through the Foreign Relations Regulation Act in 1991, declared that "Tibet, including those areas incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunan, Gansu, and Qinghai, is an occupied country under the established principles of international law whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile as recognized by the Tibetan people."

Because the United States does not recognize Tibet as an independent state, officials cannot conduct diplomatic relations with the representatives of Tibetans in exile. However, the United States does maintain contact with a wide variety of representatives of differing political groups inside and outside China with views on Tibet. The United States has urged China to respect Tibet's unique religious, linguistic, and cultural traditions, as well as the human rights of Tibetans as it formulates its policies for Tibet. The United States encourages China and the Dalai Lama to hold serious discussions aimed at resolving their differences.

The United States provides humanitarian assistance to Tibetan refugees in India and also contributes to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist Tibetans in Nepal. Most U.S. government funding to the refugees in India has gone to the Tibet Fund, a U.S. private voluntary organization which underwrites assistance programs for Tibetan refugees in India. Such programs support reception centers, preventive health care, and income generating projects and also supply basic food, clothing, and clean water.

In 1998, President Clinton requested that China's president hold talks with the Dalai Lama in a live broadcast during a U.S.-China summit. The Chinese government condemned President Clinton for meeting with the Dalai Lama and warned that U. S. relations with China would suffer as a result. In the United States, a strong pro-Tibetan movement continues to organize benefit concerts, festivals, museum exhibitions, and academic research to preserve Tibetan culture and resist Chinese aggression. In 1999, The Art of Happiness, a book of Buddhist doctrines and common sense written by the Dalai Lama, became a New York Times best seller.

Individual and Group Contributions

Rinjing Dorje, is a folklorist, storyteller, and author of books on Tibetan humor and culinary arts, including Food in Tibetan Life.



Tibet Monitor.

Monthly publication of the Tibetan Rights Campaign.

Address: 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, #323 Seattle, WA 98103.

Telephone: (206) 547-1015.

Fax: (206) 547-3758.

Tibet Environment and Development Newsletter.

Bi-monthly published by International Campaign for Tibet.

Address: 1825 K St. NW Suite 520, Washington, DC 20006.

Telephone: (202) 785-1515.

E-mail: ict@peacenet.org.

Tibet Press Watch.

Bi-monthly published by International Campaign for Tibet.

Address: 1825 K St. NW Suite 520, Washington, DC 20006.

Telephone: (202) 785-1515.

E-mail: ict@peacenet.org.

Organizations and Associations

The United States has a strong base of regional, state, and local organizations that support the Tibetan freedom movement, many of which are named "Friends of Tibet." Selected national and international organizations are listed below.

American Religious Committee for Tibet.

Organization of interfaith leadership dedicated to the right of the Tibetan people to maintain and nurture their distinctive heritage.

Address: Office of the Dean, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10025.

Telephone: (212) 316-7493.

International Campaign for Tibet.

A nonprofit, membership organization founded in 1988 to promote human rights and democratic freedoms in Tibet. Monitors current developments in Tibet and reports the information to the U.S. Congress, human rights organizations, and the media. The Campaign networks with non-governmental organizations and Tibet support groups to support initiatives for peaceful resolutions to the Tibetan issue.

Contact: John Ackerly, Director.

Address: 1825 K St. NW Suite 520, Washington, DC 20006.

Telephone: (202) 785-1515.

E-mail: ict@peacenet.org.

International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet.

Provides legal research and drafting to assist Tibetans.

Contact: Eva Herzer , President.

Address: 2288 Fulton Street, #312, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Telephone: (510) 486-0588.

E-mail: iclt@igc.apc.org.

International Tibet Independence Movement.

Contact: Larry Gerstein.

Address: PO Box 2325, Bloomington, IN 47402.

Telephone: (800) 276-8588 or (317) 579-0914.

E-mail: Rangzen@aol.com.

Students for Tibet.

A network of student-run Tibet support groups on college campuses nationwide. Co-sponsored by the International Campaign for Tibet and the U.S. Tibet Committee.

Address: 545 Eighth Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10018.

Telephone: (212) 594-5898.

Tibet Fund.

Purposes are to: assist in the preservation of Tibetan culture; further ongoing development of Tibetan arts and sciences; promote Tibetan contributions to the modern world. Funds Tibetan institutions in exile such as the Tibetan Medical Institute, the Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, and the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, in addition to Tibetan Buddhist monastic institutions now reestablished in India and Nepal. Maintains speakers' bureau; conducts charitable program; compiles statistics.

Contact: Rinchen Dharlo, President.

Address: 241 East 32nd Street, New York, New York 10016.

Telephone: (212) 213-5011.

Fax: (212) 779-9245.

E-mail: tibetfund@tibetfund.org.

Online: http://www.tibetfund.org .

Tibet Society.

Scholars, students, researchers, libraries, institutes, and organizations having an interest in the languages, history, religion, and other aspects of life in Tibet and Central Asia. Serves as a forum and center of research information on Tibetan studies and affairs. Transfers charitable donations to various refugee aid groups in India.

Contact: Mr. Thubten J. Norbu, Founder.

Address: 157 Goodbody Hall, Bloomington, Indiana 47405.

Telephone: (812) 855-2233.

Fax: (812) 855-7500.

US Tibet Committee.

Independent human rights organization of Tibetan and American volunteers promoting public awareness of the current political situation in Tibet through lectures, conferences, demonstrations, and letter writing campaigns. USTC has chapters in 18 states.

Contact: Sonam Wangdu, Chairman.

Address: 241 East 32 St., New York, NY 10016.

Telephone: (212) 213-5011.

E-mail: ustcsft@igc.apc.org.

Museums and Research Centers

The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Permanent collection of Himalayan art including Tibetan paintings.

Address: 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106-1797.

The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Has collection of Tibetan native costumes.

Address: 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, New York, NY 10028.

Telephone: (212) 879-5500.

Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art.

Museum resembles a small Tibetan mountain temple tucked away from the world. Terraced sculpture gardens, a lily and fish pond, and a distant view of the lower Hudson Bay are setting for Tibetan, Nepalese, Tibeto-Chinese, and Mongolian artifacts from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries or earlier. Metal figures of deities and lamas, as well as thangka paintings.

Contact: Barbara Lipton.

Address: 338 Lighthouse Avenue Staten Island, NY 10306.

Telephone: (718) 987-3500.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

One of the most comprehensive collections of Himalayan art, including 75 Tibetan and Nepalese thangkas, and Tibetan paintings that once belonged to Giuseppe Tucci, one of the few to enter Tibet in the middle of the twentieth century. He collected important works of art at various sites in Tibet and is probably the most important twentieth-century Tibetan scholar.

Contact: Janice Leoshko, Associate Curator, Indian and Southeast Asian Art.

Address: 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Permanent collection of Tibetan Art.

Address: 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115.

Telephone: (617) 267-9300.

The Newark Museum.

Has completely recreated the interior of a Tibetan monastery in its galleries.

Address: 49 Washington Street, Newark, NJ 07101-0540.

Telephone: (973) 596-6529.

Office of Tibet.

Collection of films and videos on Tibet.

Address: 241 E. 32nd Street, New York, NY 10016.

Telephone: (212) 213-5010.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The Tibetan and Nepalese galleries showcase collections of opaque watercolors on cloth or palm leaf.

Address: 2800 Grove Avenue, Richmond, VA 23221-2466.

Telephone: (804) 367-0844.

Sources for Additional Study

Batchelor, Stephen. The Tibet Guide: Central and Western Tibet. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1998.

Beek, Steve Van. Tibet. Singapore: APA Publications Ltd., 1994.

Feigon, Lee. Demystifying Tibet. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996.

User Contributions:

this is so interesting. my partner and I hav e now attended two teachings by H.H.The Dalai Lama and are due to get married next year in September. We are looking for Traditional buddhist wedding attire and even though ur ceremony is a civil one we would very much like a monk to bless our union. Any information would be gratefully received. Thank you so very much, Stefanie
In this article it is stated that the majority of Tibetans in the U.S. live in California. Do you have other demographic data about their numbers in other U.S. states?
Super ecxtied to see more of this kind of stuff online.

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