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Interview with Tenzin Chodon

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Tenzin Chodon was born in Nyigo, Tibet. She moved with her parents to India in 1959. Chodon was a teacher in India until moving to the United States as part of the U.S. Tibetan Resettlement Project. She is one of the principal founders of the Tibetan Women's Association (TWA) in Minnesota. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Parents, family, traveling from Tibet, Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts (TIPA), Tibetan Children's Village (TCV), school in India, teaching in India, death of husband, separation of family, deciding to come to the United States, first jobs in the U.S., transportation, translating, community, immigration clinic, Tibetan Woman's Association (TWA), Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), preserving culture, community, challenges, children, adjusting to the U.S., food, Buddhism, activism, differences and similarities between India and the U.S.

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1:45:35

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Tenzin Chodon Narrator Tenzin Yangdon and Charles Lenz Minnesota Historical Society Interviewers Interviewed for the Minnesota Tibetan Oral History Project September 5, 2005 Tenzin Chodon Residence Minneapolis, Minnesota Tenzin Yangdon Tenzin Chodon Charles Lenz - TY - TC - CL

TY: It is September 5, 2005 and we are at Tenzin Chodon la’s1 residence. Present are Tenzin Chodon, Tenzin Yangdon, primary interviewer and Charles Lenz, secondary interviewer. Tenzin la can you please spell your name out and tell us your age? TC: My name Tenzin Chodon. T-e-n-z-i-n C-h-o-d-o-n. And I am . . . let’s see, my age . . . I think I am fifty now. Because, you know, actually we don’t know our birthdays. You know our birthdays . . . because we were born in Tibet, so just after four years. the revolution, you know, the Chinese came and we just . . . my mom had about eleven children so . . . I mean they never keep the birthdays of the children. So when I went to school we had to have a birth. So they were about twenty of us who were sent by the Tibetan Government2 to an English medium school and none of us had, you know, birthdays. So they made our birthday. So according to it, you know, I was . . . they gave me February 1, 1954 as my birthday. [Giggles] So since then it’s been like that. TY: Can you remember Tibet at all? TC: Oh, yes. In fact, I’m writing a book, you know. But I don’t know when I’ll publish it. In my spare time I just try to…you want the whole . . . my childhood in Tibet or—? TY: Whatever you can share.

1 2

La, is added to the end of a name as a sign of respect. Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). The Tibetan Government in Exile.

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TC: Oh, okay. Tibet. Oh, my goodness. Is so very rich and I think mainly the religion makes it so pure. Everything is just so natural. Never even the Tibetan girls you see there is no makeup, nothing. Yet the skin is so clear. Everything. It looks like she’s been doing some makeup or something but actually, no. All the cheeks will be red and very—but very active. No disease such as TB, AIDS. Nothing is known in Tibet. It’s only after when we lost Tibet that so many of us got sick with different kind of diseases, especially TB. Otherwise, as my childhood, I’ve been there like . . . I was like four years when we had to flee from Tibet. I took it so . . . I never knew my country was going to be grabbed by the Chinese. In fact, I was enjoying the journey from my native country to Nepal. We walked one month, for one month, across the Himalayas and across Mount Everest. We just walked and walked. I sort of enjoyed, you know? Yet, I mean the airplanes were flying above. I believe that was the Chinese airplanes and there were a whole line of our people. We had no other security except for a rope tied behind our chuba3 and all the children were led as we walked along the cliff. The children were meant to walk before the others so that when we slip . . . the only security we have is whoever is holding the rope at the other end. They could pull us up. That’s how . . . that’s the only security we had. Otherwise, so many people fell down the cliff. In the gushing river. Down there it’s . . . many old people died on the way. My dad, he survived. But all my younger ones, they sort of . . . they perished through starvation. The only thing we had was my dad is a carpenter so he made small wooden spoons and tied it around our neck and we had our own pack of,you know, tsampa,4 backpacks. So what my mom did was like as we were coming along, whenever this . . . as we walked my mom—they collected some twigs and then when she saw us hungry or crying or something she quickly made three stones and then burned the twigs and quickly made some black tea and we already had the tsampa and all quickly put that in the bowl and then have it with our wooden spoon. That was the only food we had. And yet I still enjoy so being a child. My mom, dad, uncle, they all are crying so much. I said, “What?” I never saw men crying, especially my dad. And they looked so sad. However, that’s—still I never thought that the Chinese—we were leaving our country for good. Anyhow, that was my escape. Until we reached Nepal. CL: Where in Tibet were you from? TC: I’m from Nyigo. It’s a very . . . it’s quite close to Nepal. So we used to get fruit, rice and all brought from Nepal in exchange of salt. They take salt from Tibet and barley and like that. Even when we escaped in 1959 we walked out to Nepal like that. Literally walking, walking. It was so cold. So cold. Nose runny. And if our parents or somebody don’t wipe them quickly, like it would freeze. The snot and everything used to be frozen on our lips. It was so cold.

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An article of Tibetan clothing. Roasted barely flour.

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But we had no other way, to just stop one night at a certain place and have a bath or something. Bath is not known at all. Never. I don’t remember having bath. I mean the air itself is so pure. You are clean yourself. You don’t need . . . like drink water from the bottle or filter it or do something. Literally go to the river and scoop the water up and then you drink it. It’s that cool. So much so . . . everything inside out is so pure in us. All the Tibetans. It’s . . . one thing I think the religion makes us . . . the religion itself is of purity. It doesn’t . . . like forces anybody, but you got to suffer. I heard in America that Buddhism is known as the suffering religion. That’s true in a way because unlike Christianity, see, Jesus says you believe in me and you’ll be free or I’m the light, I’m the bread or something. But in Buddhism never. Lord Buddha never says he sends something. He says . . . he was born as a prince and then left the palace and went . . . he saw the sufferings of the world. See? So likewise, I mean, we do have to suffer to have an eternity enlightenment or something. I like it, you know? TY: Going back to when you were in India, you said you went to English medium school. TC: Yes. TY: Can you tell us the name of that school and your experience at that school? TC: Oh, yes. Now, let me start from the beginning. I was, as I already told you, we had no birthdays so I didn’t know, but they chose . . . when we were in Nepal, you know, staying in the hut and all, my parents heard that there’s a very good school in Dharamsala in India. So my parents, especially my dad, he didn’t know how to speak any other language. My mom of course little knew, like she knew little Nepali and all, you know. So anyhow, the grownups, they got together and I learned the English alphabet in Nepal itself. We had to all stay outside a hut. Inside the teachers allowed to go. Only we children are not just—there was a big barn, medium-size blackboard and just sit on the ground and that’s how we were taught English alphabet. And then from there, of course, my elder brothers and sisters went to handicraft center. Weaved carpets and all those. Then me and my younger sister, we—my mom and my uncle, they all brought us to Dharamsala and there my mom . . . without tickets. They didn’t know how to buy tickets and we as children, of course, how will we know? Anyhow, they just . . . I mean that was a second escape. It’s just like a second escape from Tibet. Without tickets. When we were in the train, the conductor comes. “Tickets! Where’s the tickets?” And we didn’t have any. So we . . . as children we used to hide underneath the bench of the train and thinking he wouldn’t know us. He looked at the grownups who were just pleading with him that they wanted these small children to be in a school in India. Anyhow, oh, it was they pleaded and they told him . . . those Indians, you know, some of them are so mean! They never like have mercy, you know, whatever you say. I mean . . . so anyhow, one old guy I think came up.

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We were still hiding under the bench, mind you. Another policeman comes. He threw us all out, utensils, mats and all out of the train window. Of course, they didn’t care. My mom—they didn’t care. We were still under the bench. And they told another man that they—a conductor, I think, came and they said, “It’s no use talking with these dumb people. Just send them.” So that’s how we reached India. From there, there was government, Tibetan government truck, big truck. We all got into the truck and again went up to Dharamsala and when we reached Dharamsala like . . . now no house, nothing. We stayed under a big tree near a tap. Luckily for the first time seeing a clear water. We got the utensils, our water from the tap and made some porridge. Then the next day I was put in TIPA5 because I was the bigger one and my younger sister was kept in TCV6 because she’s younger. So she had a very, very good facility. That time TCV it was beginning like . . . it wasn’t as good as it is now but it was starting. You know all the children from Tibet. At that time, of course, 1960, maybe 1959 ending . . . or 1960. So my sister, youngest sister was kept there in TCV. I was sent to TIPA. I was so very interested in dancing and singing. Still my mind was—I didn’t have that cooped up mind at all. Then my uncle said no. I stayed there for three months in TIPA. Then my uncle he said, “Oh, this girl, she needs to be sent to a school. She cannot live her life on music and, you know, guitar, dramnyen. No.”7 So then my mom took me out, uncle . . . we were sent to [unclear]. It’s a temporary school down in Lower Dharamsala. [Unclear] And there’s about two hundred children over there. From that school we are sent to different central schools. So me, my friends, and they said, “Now somebody is going to come and sort of check out those children who are clean, who are neat and who are . . .” You know, who they think is brilliant. So we went to the river next [giggles] to the school and that’s the opportunity we had to . . . we had good part and oiled our hair. All the children were in line waiting for the inspector. Oh, my goodness! And now, just now to think of it is . . . the inspector was, you know, the principal Wynberg Allen. The then principal. He and some other came and so he looked at all the two hundred children, you know, who were there. Then he called, “Okay, you come, you come.” And so including me there were nineteen other children. So we were selected. Just imagine! Still we never knew where we’ll be sent to. Children, you know, so dumbfounded. I mean innocent. Just from Tibet we came, you know. And suddenly to see such a big guy. It was—and here we twenty were selected and we were . . . we didn’t even have shoes. Walked barefoot. Everywhere. So they bought us white tennis shoes. Pink ribbons for the girls. And nice dresses. For the girls. Boys were given some khaki pants and some were given tennis shoes.
5 6

Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts. Tibetan Children’s Village. 7 A Tibetan instrument similar to a guitar.

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Next day we went to His Holiness’8 palace. Photo was taken with His Holiness and then His Holiness told whoever is guiding us . . . give some money to him and said, “Now take these children to a nice hotel, to a nice restaurant and give them something to eat.” Just imagine how . . . like we must be looking so weak and yet our mind was so bright. So the grownups, they knew. Anyhow, we were still . . . I mean still, whoever they chose were very . . . they saw something in us that will be good for the future of Tibet. So after going to the—now we were in the McLeod Ganj.9 There’s a little tea shop type. Ghomo took us. Ghomo is the boss. He took us to that restaurant and for the first time ever [giggles] we had the taste of the sweet tea. The cup is there and underneath the saucer. So we were wondering what this is. Ghomo said now you all are very like, talented children and very fortunate. Now we are going to send you to our English school. In that English school this is the way you eat. This is how you drink. So when you drink it . . . we of course was mostly, we, all twenty of us, were from a very, very poor family. Extremely. Like sweet tea and real butter tea we used to have during Losar10 time only. New Year Day, maybe. So in this restaurant when sweet tea was served we were . . . [makes sipping sounds] drinking it. “You’re not drinking it. That was . . . that’s not the way you drink. You drink . . . sip it and then let it flow in your mouth,” he says. “When your tongue gets sweet, then swallow.” He taught us everything. And then, anyhow, not for our . . . I think was an interview by the principal. We twenty were all lined up. Now we had good clothes, shoes. Pink ribbons and all. So there were ten boys and ten girls, maybe. We were called for interview. And just imagine! The interview. This is to test our like intelligence. And what they did is they drew same cat. Same cats but one cat’s head is a little tilted or something. So then we all look. I mean one by one they call and this basket of . . . a plate of sweets. So the boss said, “Now if you know it, remember you get one candy, one treat.” So we were looking, I mean at least for me, I was looking at the sweets. Wow! Then the question he asked me was like to differentiate the picture within those what, ten cats or something. I didn’t know at first. I said, “All this are shi mi. All these are cats. What do you want?” I wasn’t even afraid. Then he said, “No, no, no.” But all in Tibetan. We never knew how . . . the dialect of Lhasa. Right now we speak Lhasa dialect. But those days we speak in a different dialect everywhere. And this guy, of course, speaks Lhasa dialect. So I never—I had a difficulty to catch his dialect. Anyhow, I said, as a child, you know, I wasn’t afraid. I said, “All these are cats. What do you want me to say?” So he said, “No. One cat is different. I mean all are cats, no doubt, but this one cat different.” So then I looked at this. Okay. One, two, three. Then somewhere in the middle one cat’s head was like this. I said, “Oh, okay. This one.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Dharamsala is often divided into Upper and Lower Dharamsala. Upper Dharamsala is called McLeod Ganj. 10 Tibetan New Year.
9 8

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Yes.” Now you knew. He said, “What’s wrong with this cat?” I say, “His head is like this.” [Giggles] I made my head tilted. He said, “Oh, good, good, okay. You get one candy.” I was so excited! I put it in my pocket. Now the math thing. Math test. He says, “If I walk three steps up there and three steps down all together how many?” So I was so confused. I said, “Huh? Like three steps there, three steps . . . three . . . is three.” He said, “No, no, no. You walk three steps up, three steps down. Now you put them together. How many?” And now still I didn’t figure out what he was saying. Anyhow, like I passed in the—all twenty of us did well. So we were all again . . . took us to the material shop and bought like a little boxes to put our belongings. We didn’t have much. Nothing. I mean whatever, the shoes and little sweaters and all those. We were bought little tin boxes. All by the government. Then Ghomo, he took us all the way to Mussoorie and we were, all twenty of us, were put in a hostel, Tibetan hostel. And there one lady from England, we call her Auntie Norman. She was waiting there with open arms. We thought, “What?” I used to take everything for granted. I mean don’t know anything. It’s like a blind person leading . . . you know. We were all blind. I mean looks like. So anyhow, we were put into this hostel and later on when we reach class, Wynberg looks like the junior. Wynberg goes up to class six. Then seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven we had to go to Allen. So it’s Wynberg Allen High School. Later we learned it was the best school in India. We all had, of course, if you go privately it’s impossible to pay the fees. So we all twenty had sponsors. From German, from Swiss, I mean the government found us. So there we were all plunged into one Wynberg Allen High School and we started, since we knew the alphabet—you know I told you I learned alphabets in Nepal. We skipped K-G, so we started from class . . . skipped class one or so. All of us started from class two. Two, three, four, five. It was . . . it was such an excellent school, you know, with all uniform. Was so good. It’s a English Protestant school. Every Sunday we had to go to church. Of course, the juniors, they never take us out of the school. The service is always done in the school hall. But from class six upwards we have to go to church. [Unclear] on our head. All our teachers were from Britain. You know those days. And the principal was from Australia. I mean I enjoyed my school days. That was the best. Out of the blue. We were plunged into such a good, highly qualified, very modernized and now the students from there are like these days all serving in the Tibetan government. The recent one is . . . he’s now the new representative in New York office. All are very good teachers. You know, very good service men. It looks . . . it’s me out here it’s just . . .

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TY: Can you recall when you found out that you were going to one of the best schools in India? Like what went—like went through your mind? What kind of things were you thinking about at that time? TC: Yes. You know, one thing good is we all had to speak English in that school. And we, just coming from Tibet and you know speaking always the Tibetan language, Nepal, not even the Lhasa dialect. We speak our own mother tongue. Our native thing. So since our English wasn’t . . . that school needed a certain standard of English so all twenty of us were just little in English. So for the winter three months holiday we used to have we weren’t allowed to go home. The school just took all twenty of us to South India. Toured all South India and we saw all those national parks and some like . . . we toured South India. So much so we had write down also whatever we saw. In English. It’s like a essay type. So that’s how we improved in English. And it wasn’t until I was in class . . . let me see . . . class six that I realized that I don’t have a country. I realized that when we were crossing the Himalayas I realized that those days must be the one when we lost our country. I never realized it before that. Your mind was so . . . like . . . it was so child . . . innocent. Too much to do. Things. You never think of what’s going to happen in future. What’s going to . . . what are we going to eat tomorrow or something. Those type of worries wasn’t there at all. Yes. Then from class six upwards of course you become mature. You sort of seem to think more and more about your country, about your . . . like your own nationality. Then when we reach class six our English was also quite good. TY: So when you were— since you were going to an English medium school, did you interact with other Tibetan kids other than the twenty students that you went to school with? TC: Oh, yes, yes. There were many Tibetans who were senior to us. They were like [Tibetan name]. He was the captain of Allen. We did see those girls, big girls and boys. They were very, very kind to us. We were just, as I told you, like . . . of course little bigger than what . . . a baby. Much matured. So we do, yes, interact. In fact, later on, like few . . . TY: Were you able to graduate from Wynberg Allen? TC: I stayed there until class ten. Then from there me and some other girls, we went for a training to Kalimpong and we did the child nursing training. Of course, main graduation was done in Wynberg Allen but after that we took up another—this again they had to select. If your English is not good you cannot go for this training. So yes, it was very memorable. Very educative. I learned a lot. Yes. TY: So was this something that you were looking forward to doing when you were in school or was it something that was assigned to you?

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TC: No. It was something which I literally liked very much. I used to just . . . I love small children. I love them so much. In fact, after graduation from Wynberg Allen and this nursing, child nursing, I became a very good teacher. So much so . . . I mean I loved all my students and the students’ parents all adored me so much. I taught in a Catholic Sacred High School and I’ll show you a picture. This is the picture when I was teaching there. One day we had like audience with His Holiness. It was just outside his room. I was lucky enough again to be with the principal and His Holiness. These are the high school teachers. All nuns. TY: So you were teaching all Indian students or—? TC: Yes. Mainly, mostly Indian but there were like about five or six Tibetan students also. All from Kangi. I taught English grammar to class three and like Hindi alphabets all to juniors. Like the beginners and you know, all those. I used to have like forty to fifty students in my class. All under control. Not like . . . and I taught. Until I came here I was teaching in this school. And what I thought was, “Okay. I’ll go to America and really broaden my . . . broaden up as a teacher by taking more classes or whatever I have to.” I was ready. I came here with such a high aim and when I came here nothing was . . . I couldn’t do anything because I wasn’t educated in this thing, in this country. Therefore they won’t even recognize me as a teacher’s assistant. Although a thousand11 of us were all again . . . there was already job for us to do. Whatever you were doing in India they had similar. If you were a housewife they had a housekeeping job ready for us to do in some of the hotels or something. But since I was a teacher they found a very good school for me. But . . . I mean they did their part. I’m very grateful but when I went to that school I wasn’t recognized as a teacher at all. Not even a teacher’s assistant. I wasn’t allowed to—what I was allowed to do in that school was clean up the children’s mess and clean their poop and just take them for a walk. I’m not allowed to teach at all. Then I went up to the principal. I said, “Why not? I mean back in India I used to have like forty-five to fifty students in my class and, I mean, here I’m not even allowed to like be amongst the children and teach. Why is it?” She said, “No, no, Tenzin, because you don’t have the certificate and if you really want to be a teacher you got to go back to school, get twelve credits minimum. For that you have to pay your own.” So I said, “Oh, my goodness. Where am I now?” And then all my friends, as a housekeeper, you know, they were all making like six dollars or seven or something per hour. But here, me, I was making only four dollars twenty-five cents or something. And my pay, I was the minimum. Right now to think of it. So anyhow, I was really desperate. I said, “Oh, my gosh. If I go to school, who’s going to finance me?” I

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U.S. Tibetan Resettlement Project, a program that became effective under the 1990 Immigration Act passed by Congress.

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already have four children to send their fees and all. They all are in school. All my children were small at that time. TY: They were in India? TC: Yes. They were in India. Yes. They came after five years only. My children joined me after five years. So within that five years am I to go to school to achieve whatever I want or send the fees for my children for them to graduate and be brighter and more positive human beings? I thought and thought. I said, “I’ll forget my profession.” So I forgot it. I never . . . I mean to go to school it was so expensive. Those days I was doing three jobs just to send fees for my four children. TY: Were your children going to Tibetan schools or were they going to like—? TC: They were luckily in Kalimpong, Dr. Grant’s Homes. It’s English medium again. So I thought if . . .okay, deep down I thought if I give education and educate my four children that is the best gift one can give. I mean you can get gold and silver and whatever wealth you want through education. See, if you don’t have an education what are you going to do? See? Your children will be in a positive world where everything will be computerized and I don’t want them to lag behind. So I said, “Okay. Let them have whatever I earn from here.” So except for Tenzin Tinley, he was in TCV, I didn’t have to send anything because my husband was government officer so for those government employees we don’t have to pay anything. Otherwise for, Norsang, Sonam, Somo, we kept them in the English school. So after my husband’s—he died in 1991. So 1992 I came here. Then I said, “Okay.” I’m not . . . even life is about birth and death. You’re already registered to die as soon as you are born. See? But in between lies this very important message, very important action which you have to do between life and death. I mean here I am. My husband died and I’m alive and my children are all going to be alive. See? So why not give them that positive, that education, that . . . not only education like in where you need to feed and clothe and all these. These are the minor things. But education in such a way that they will be able to face the world boldly. That they can do if they know the international language, which is English. So that’s how I thought and I sent all of them to English school. Thinking they will definitely do something. So that’s, I mean, what they are doing now. They all are . . . after five years they joined me and two of them finished their high school here. Southwest High School. And two of them completed high school from India. The elder two. And now they all are doing very, very good. It looks like I’m the . . . like they are spoiling me too much. I don’t have to work. I mean I do work but you know, now I don’t have to worry like, okay. They all are grown up now. So what I tell them now is I gave you, I struggled to give you, to bring you up to this standard. Now you think and do what you think is right. But always think, make sure that you do something good for our country and always

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remember we . . . “Although you are in America,” I said, “Not even a handful of soil is yours. We don’t have country. Always remember one day you four have to bring our country freedom.” So I just keep putting these things in their ear so they know. They all are very humble. They just do, you know, like you all are very . . . the future citizens of Tibet which His Holiness . . . His Holiness has got a very strong belief that the younger generation will bring or sprout the Tibetan freedom. You all are His Holiness right hand. See? That’s what I keep telling my children also. So you better do well. Do this. Whatever I am doing I did it. Now I got twenty-five cents left in my life. “That I’m going to,” I said, “Do a . . .” TY: So when you were working for four dollars and you decided—did you decide to change your work after that, too? TC: Yes. As I told you, I never come to this country with a high aim. I came . . . that was my mistake. Actually all the Tibetans, [unclear], everybody very highly educated and we all came here with a big, big imagination that we are going to do something great. But when we came here, although we knew the English, we were nowhere because we had no education, nothing from this country and the bad thing about this country is—I mean although we are not educated we can go to school. Yet we had the same knowledge. We could do more than those people who went to school and got graduates and everything, you know, who were done from here. I mean we were doing the same thing. However, like my friend, he was science teacher in Center School and same thing. He thought like he must be much higher than me in scientific way. But his aims weren’t met because, see, he wasn’t educated here. So therefore he had to do like housekeeping or do some glass wiping or like that. All our aims and everything, ambitions, were just [claps hands] trashed. Therefore for myself I, honestly, never knew I would be . . . I would give up my profession as a teacher. But reluctantly I had to because of the way this country treated me. No education in this so you can’t be a teacher. Go to do housekeeping or something. You get six or seven dollars per hour. Here I’m getting just four and so I just . . . I gave up. I gave up my profession and I went to—I had another job. I mean I used to help my people all over because there were 150 people in the beginning. Tibetans. We were sent from Dharamsala, from all the places. There were only 150 moms and dads here. So many of us didn’t know English. Because of the separation which we had to do with our family, some had to leave their wife and children and just come here and some had to leave their—I mean there was only one member from a family who is allowed to come. So the rest is all in India or Nepal or somewhere. And because of that separation, many got sick. Absolutely emotionally sick, physically. Oh, those days were very, very hard. Many of them didn’t know English. So me, knowing

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little bit of English . . . of course, I already quit my teaching and I was going all around helping my people, those who needed help in interpretation. I used to take them from hospital to hospital by bus. None of us drove. I still never drive. But those days, 1992, 1993, 1994, we all went by bus. We used to help each other, especially myself. I said, “Now, now my main aim is . . . let me keep those Tibetans who are already here like in a good health by helping them.” Then I think that somehow the hospitals also knew that there was one Tenzin who speaks maybe good English. I didn’t—there was a nurse from Hennepin County. That time, oh yes, straight when I left my teaching thing, that school, I joined a laundry, so where I now was working there were a lot of Tibetans there working the laundry. We were getting seven dollars. I said, “Oh, my, I never ever leave this job.” So excited. Laundry job. [Giggles] And then at the same time it was so . . . every day it was [unclear]. We have to dry the sheets or fold the washcloth or do every . . . the same thing. There was . . . I wasn’t getting any education from what I was doing. I want to do something. This is America. Is this every day am I wasting my time? After a while, too, I got so fed up with the laundry job. It doesn’t give you any education. You don’t learn anything. So I left that and then . . . anyhow, while I was doing that and at the same time I was helping my people, going to the . . . grocery shopping, going to hospitals and all. Then this Hennepin County nurse, she came and the supervisor, she called me one day to my apartment. Telephoned me. She said, “Is that Tenzin?” I said, “Yes, it’s me.” She said . . . you know, those days I was taking one Tibetan to Fairview Hospital. He had a very . . . he came here from Tibet but he was amongst the thousand. There were certain categories, see, among the thousand. A group of people who came straight from Tibet and a group from those who are homeless, a group from the government employee section where I am from and they were all broken up into categories. So there was this man. Didn’t know anything. No English. Yet he was from my country and being from the same group. He had a very big like old sore inside his bladder or something on the hip. He had to operate it and I had to go with the doctor, wear all the mask, gloves and all and hold his hands. Now he has to operate. You can live . . . but they took out all pus and everything from his one . . . a big jug full. And the poor thing, this man, he was just holding my hand and I said nothing. Doctor is so nice. He says, “Now Tenzin, now you explain to him what we are doing and I’m now going to insert this pipe and to drain out all the pus and everything. That is the main thing why he can’t walk.” Like that. I mean important things. I was helping so much. Finally the supervisor, Hennepin County supervisor, said, “We need you. We need one Tibetan badly as an interpreter.” I said, “No, no, no.” I never expected to have such a good job as interpreter. Sit on the chair and all. See, I was already drenched now because I had to give up my own profession so I said, “Now no hope.” I was hopeless, hopeless, helpless and never had a chair in my mind to sit on. I said, “That’s too great.” Maybe . . . what did I do in my past life that I have to suffer so much? Many of us said the same thing. Why in the world do I have . . . are we to suffer so much? All the

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unlucky ones are amongst the thousand who are sent to this country. So all of us are like, we must have done something bad in a previous life that we have to undergo such . . . Anyhow, anyhow, the supervisor, she said, “You don’t need to fill any application.” They had filled up all my application, everything. What I had to do was just sit on the chair, sign wherever they said to sign. I said, “Oh, this is cool!” [Giggles] For the first time touching a pen. And just now to think of it was . . . they got me on contract for five years. So I said, “Usually when you are to go apply for a job, three or five pages you got to fill, no?” There I didn’t have to do anything. Just sign wherever they told me to sign. And they said, “Do you want to work here at the Hennepin County?” I said, “What?” I said, “No. I already got a job in the laundry.” I thought they . . . I never expected. I thought I must be imagining. Must be my dream or something. Never expected. They said, “No, no, no, no. We need an interpreter. Your English is so good.” But I never think myself to be . . . even now. Self place needs no recommendation. My teachers always used to tell us. So having that in mind I always place myself very low. Right at the bottom. Especially when I lost my profession, you know. I was . . . I was the worst emotionally, and I was just taking all the pains of my friends who never knew anything. I know but I don’t have the facility to go and help them. See? The main pain was the separation. Family separation. We all were so . . . and then, anyhow, this Hennepin County, they . . . they just forced me to work with them for five years. I said, “Okay. How many days are you going to keep me here?” I’ve been working seven days in the laundry. I thought, “Oh, my God. Tenzin, your standard . . . they’re saying no.” “Why are you working in the laundry?” I said, “What? It’s a good thing. They pay me good.” They pitied me so much. They said, “Oh, my goodness. You’ve got such a cheerful face and good smile and your English, your speaking is so nice and yet you are working in the laundry.” I said, “Nothing matter. That doesn’t matter. I mean I work. I’ve got four children.” I said, “And plus I have all my people here not knowing English. I go and help them. That gives me a lot of happiness.” So anyhow they said, “That’s what we want you for.” So the next day, oh, my goodness, I had a little . . . those cubicles to myself and they were . . . my photo was taken and I had a county badge and all. Everything was done by them. I didn’t have to do anything. So then I started. Oh, my goodness. They gave me the full, the doctors . . . uniform. White coat and I had a big bag to carry. Then later on they trained me literally as a nurse. How to give TB shots and how to take doctor’s order and I had to go like visit homes, give them TB meds and also give them Mantoux and all. All this I was taught by them. That was . . . I think my performance was . . . all my boss, supervisor, everybody was so pleased. And they said, “Now Tenzin, we want to do something for your people. What can we do?” I said, because they said you are doing so good, I said, “Okay. Now the family reunification is soon going to be there.” I said from 1995 it started, I think. Yes. 1996. It started. So I said, “This family reunification is going to be there and I want all my

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people to be screened in this clinic.” All those people coming from outside. They have to be screened for TB. I mean for others they have to go and find their own hospitals. Now I sort of made a clear way for my people that as soon as they come here joining their parents or from the airport they go to their family and the next day they can come straight to the county and I’ll be waiting there with my white uniform. I’m already trained now to give them TB shots and take their medicines and for those . . . many of the children were . . . they had PPT. I give them Mantoux and if it is positive it just raises. To see how it is. If you feel the two fingers you know, you feel a bump then you quickly write his whole name down and then give it to the doctor. She’ll prescribe the medicine and all. Then I have to go and give it to them and in my own language I explain to them and some of them are very . . . they come out with chronic diseases. Of course TB [speaks in Tibetan] their own medicine for like two years or three years or something. But [ speaks in Tibetan] like they don’t survive. Not only I was help to my people but all the other, Somali, whoever comes to Minnesota from other country. I had to go and . . . you know. So much so I knew languages from little bit . . . I feel more expert. [Giggles] I liked it so much. That’s why now , okay, the family reunification was now started. Everybody had no problem. No doubt in English also because I was there. That’s why many of the Tibetans now know me as oh, Tenzin la in the, you know . . . thing. They all thought I was a doctor or something having that coat on. I said, “No way. I’m just . . . I have to wear this being in a clinic.” After the family reunification now the Tibetan population increased. See? And there were so many women and now me having that sense of leadership, having that sense of, what do you say . . . working amongst the community, I said, “Why can’t I start a Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA)?” So there was my friend. One day . . . I think we started from 1998. Just [Tibetan name]. She came to my home and she was a very good secretary in [unclear]. I heard, you know, she . . . again Tibetan government employee. She was very good in Tibetan script and very . . . and I was equally good in English. So there was . . . she who was so good in Tibetan and there was me. Outgoing and whatever you have to do in English, I mean there was no doubt from me. So we two had a cup of coffee and first . . . 1st July, yes, 1998. We said, “Okay. Today’s the 1st of July, and 6th July12 [speaks in Tibetan]. Let’s start one.” Oh, my gosh. And regarding this if you want to ask any questions, I have the full . . . should I keep . . . TY: Can you tell us a little bit about—? [Tape interruption] TY: Tenzin la, can you tell us a little bit about Tibetan Women’s Association in general? Like how it was started in India and how it became such a popular organization in the Tibetan community in general?
12

Tibetans celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday in the sixth of July.

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TC: I don’t know how it got started in India. India, most of my life I was either in school, married and I was occupied with my own profession. But how it started in Minnesota, I could tell you that. TY: Can you please share? TC: Yes. Like it was—now that there were so many Tibetans in Minnesota after the family reunification, [Tibetan name] and my self, we just sat down together and she was a very good, again, government employee in here settlement Bylakuppee. I heard . . . I mean she’s excellent, excellent in Tibetan script. Of course, and I was equally, you know, like all right in English. So one day we two sat down. 1st of July, with a cup of coffee and it was 1998. Yes. I told her now since both of us were doing something for our country in India why can’t we do . . . set up . . . like start a Tibetan Women’s Association? So she said very good idea. Let’s do it. And she’s got—she was a member of the Tibetan Women’s Association in India so she had very good ideas what to do. So I said, “Okay. Let’s do it now.” Without . . . okay. We two decided. Right? And the next day and the following days we had some more. There were four other ladies . . . like [unclear name] and who was that? And [unclear name]. Of course, she’s the secretary. And [unclear name] from Northeast. Anyhow, we five. There were five of us. All of us were moms with two jobs. And [unclear name], she drives. Luckily we had somebody who drives. We told them . . . first of course I had to give a small gathering, get together. Little party. And then decide what to do and all those. To call them, to phone them, hardly any of the people are at home. They are either at work or if they are home some of them won’t pick up the phone because they are too tired and children were all in school. So we decided to go door to door without calling anybody. So after our second job, be it like ten p.m. or even eleven p.m. without minding . . . least minding about our own tiredness, we five used to get together and go from door to door in Northeast and, “Please now we are starting this Tibetan Women’s Association. Can you join us?” Some of them, of course, were very appreciative of what we were doing. But some, my goodness. “You people don’t have work?” “No.” “That’s why you are coming? Not even . . . what’s this telephone for? Why can’t you telephone? Coming as a thief in the night.” And oh, my goodness! Oh! We used to get abused so much. Not physical but verbally abusive people came across. Somehow all these five were . . . they said, “We are not going to do now. Why are we getting so much abusements from our own peoples’ mouth?” I said, “No, no, no. It’s okay. They’ll soon realize that they are losing. I mean if they abuse us our quality won’t go down.” I told them, “I have to keep like these five stones . . . five of us together. I will myself.” To me, they said, “Oh, this danger. That lady who is working the hospital, she is the main one. Just because she knows English she’s boasting now to . . .” They thought I’m getting something by starting this.

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Anyhow, I said . . . see, I’m getting worse. Almost to prostitution, you know, I was called. I said, “Never mind. I don’t care whatever they say. Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can’t harm me,” I said. So I’m doing this for the freedom of our country. If we go and shout in this country it will definitely come to a certain conclusion. Because UN know is just our neighbor whereas in India every 10th of March13 and 12th of March14 you go shouting we want UN, we want justice. Who is going to hear? Even the . . . I mean we go from north to south in Dharamsala shouting but nobody cares. It’s like a must thing which must be done on 10th of March . . . no. It’s just like nobody cares. So I said here we . . . I mean Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and Tibetan Women’s Association is the only two organizations His Holiness recognizes. Otherwise . . . I mean so many people are saying that oh, they’re going to start something something. And there are so many causes. There are so many [unclear]. Why start all this when you don’t have a country of your own? But Tibetan Youth Congress and Tibetan Women’s Association, since it started by . . . by the government, we got to as a government employ . . . got to hold to it. So whatever abusement I had personally, I didn’t care a shit. I said, “What? It doesn’t . . . to know, doesn’t do any harm to me. I don’t care even if they call me the worst prostitute.” I mean I was called, you know. And all my other friends, they were . . . they give up. They said, “We are not going to . . . our husbands were just shouting at us by going door to door and . . . some of them think like we coming to their house so late are just to see their husband’s face or something or the other.” I felt awfully bad. I said, “Oh, my goodness!” But still then I thought I don’t blame some of these ladies, because for their whole life they’ve been so much . . . husband and wife has been together so much and they never cared about outside, about government, like policies. I mean the government is just like a family. It has his own problems, too, and we as the . . . like the government employee, got to serve it. So we can’t sit back and just stare at the government’s problem. We got to do it. Like some of us can think that way. But there are many of us who cannot think. Like they came over, they came to America. Now they got everything and don’t have to bother about anybody. That’s not the way to think. It’s too poor thinking. We truly . . . America belongs to Americans. I mean it belongs to us also, no doubt. But we need our own country. And look at all the other Asians and the Somalians. They got their own country. Like Vietnamese. They got their own country. But we Tibetans are here but where is our country? See? We don’t have. What? If you got a house, a car, okay. Everything in this country. But do you have a soil on that? Can you own that soil? No. Whereas if you go back to your own country, and I’m just telling my children, “When I go back to my country,” I said, “I don’t need no food. I’ll just eat the soil of my country and I’ll be full. Be fulfilled.” So they get . . . my children get so surprised. They say, “Oh, mom!” They get scared.
13

On the tenth of March, 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, escaped from Tibet into India. Because of this, the tenth of March is celebrated as Tibetan Uprising Day. 14 Tibetan Women’s National Uprising Day.

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Anyhow, yes, anyhow . . . like that door to door when we went. This abusement. Everything was set so . . . I mean and then it, naturally it—instead of giving us encouragement we were discouraged so much. But I wasn’t willing to give up. I said, “Okay. You five if you want to give up and your husbands are saying something to you and if you listen to your husband . . . if you think your husbands and all are more important than what you are doing right now then let’s give up. It’s okay.” So anyhow, they said, “No, Tenzin. You are the backbone. You are a pillar. We’ll listen to you.” I said, “Yes. It’s up to you.” Later on you see how fruitful we become. Right now, okay, we get all this verbal abusives. It’s okay. What’s there? It doesn’t let us down. You are from—you got a beautiful family. This public abusement doesn’t bring your family down. In fact it will add to our . . . their discouragement, for me it encouraged me to go more further and further. And give them more time, give them more words, more bad words to say. See? So I didn’t give up. I said [claps hands], “Come on. Let’s do it.” We did talent shows and like all like their age those days . . . our Tibetan girls are very good in dancing, be it English, Hindi or Tibetan. Whatever. So I went and hired a hall. A church. Very nice. The stage was also very good. We did talent show. From that we got a little fund, you know, to carry on more. The next time we again did some dance. See all these saw . . . people became more and more, more and more interested. And now see where is the Tibetan Women’s . . . what do you think of . . . TY: Yes. What do you think about how it’s going right now? The Tibetan Women’s Association, the Regional Tibetan Women’s Association’s membership has increased and people are more involved and are willingly participating in it right now. TC: Oh, now it is excellent. After like . . . when I was the president, of course we were the pioneers. There were hardly any . . . like maybe about fifty or sixty members. For them, like we made Tibetan Women’s card just like Tibetan Youth Congress has. That card. We went and made Tibetan . . . original Tibetan Women’s Association card. Took their photos. In their own room, in their own house. As we went begging for them to join. At the same time if they agreed we just clicked a photo, you know, and with that we made cards. Now those became members. When we called for like 12th March every year is Tibetan Women’s thing . . . demonstration . . . so I mean there were like about twenty, twenty-five Tibetan women used to come. So we all gather at Park-Nicollet downtown and we go and wear our own cultural chubas. It was a very . . . attractive. All the people . . . wow! And the next year it increased to more. When we were starting it I was, I mean, I felt terrible. I went to India and went to Tibetan original . . . the head office. I said, “Now I don’t want to . . . I want to be dropped out of this.” I don’t want to start Tibetan Women’s because here, see, I’m getting . . . when I call for meeting nobody—hardly five or six comes. Others none. Every time we make a show, like talent show, dance show and all this, only . . . I mean it was much better than just say, come for a meeting. More gatherings used to be therefore talent and dance shows. But I was, emotionally I was feeling so . . . bad. Here I had to

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go and support those five people to be together. On the other hand I had to bear all the abuse from the public. At the same time I’m not getting like enough . . . support from my people, my Tibetan women. So I went to Dharamsala. I told them, “Please excuse me. I don’t want to be president. I don’t want to start this original Tibetan Women’s . . .” So they begged me, literally begged me, and the president there, she cried and I was of course in my tears when I went to the office. I said, “I don’t want to push. This is the state that I am now. They called me all sort of names and it’s not that because of the names that I want to quit but I’m not getting enough support.” So they said, “Tenzin la you see how very important it is to start a Tibetan Women’s Association abroad. So far we have Women’s Association in Switzerland, and Minnesota is just a newly born one. So it adds more to our record. So please keep it up. Please we’ll do whatever. I know it is very hard.” So when my president, the Tibetan Women’s . . . when the boss begs me in tears to restart again to maintain it, of course I did. Okay. I said, “I’ll go back and again to start all over.” So I had more encouraged, you know, encouragement from my boss. And I started and now I think . . . after me having served for four years, then [unclear name] and [unclear name], all were working as officers, government officers in Dharamsala. They took it over from me and then they each one of them were better than the other. In English and Tibetan and they had more people coming in. So now the president I think is [unclear name]. I think they are doing well. But I’m too tired now to take part in anything but I told them if you need anything like in ways of participating in like meetings or anything you are always welcome to call me. But you know I’m very, very tired. So that’s how it is. If you start something, the pain is still there. You don’t want to do anything else. Now but . . . on the surface . . . I see everything flourishing so well, so good. I’m happy about it. I told . . . see . . . where has all the abusement gone? Where is all the . . . those ignorant peoples, backwards, talking is gone. It’s all gone in the trash. We did our part. See? So now . . . then in 2001 His Holiness came here and because of my hardship I had a very good photograph with the members of the board. The TYC president is there and myself and all the other members. This photo was taken at the time of departure in market. So that was my present for my hardship. TY: You said that two of your children graduated from high school here? TC: Yes. TY: Like when they were going . . . like when they first arrived here and they had to deal with cultural change and like integrating into another different community, how did you as a parent deal with that?

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TC: Oh, my gosh! I cried with them. I literally cried. Because my . . . especially my son, Tinley, you know? Coming from TCV such a well-mannered school. No? And suddenly going to school here, to Southwest, where all the children . . . even when the teacher comes in, the pops were in their hand and stretching their legs and no uniform and all. My son won’t eat. Just thinking. He always, literally every day he told me, “I want to go back. Please send me back. I’ll refund you the airplane money.” And I told him, “Tinley, it’s okay. This country is like that only . . . no culture, no respect, no nothing. So don’t feel bad. You’ll get used to it.” And he, this son—Somo was okay because she’s from English school. I mean she knew how to speak in English also plus she had a lot of Tibetan girls, you know, to mix up with. But Tinley, coming from TCV, his English wasn’t good and he was the best student from TCV, actually, and coming here, being dumped into Southwest High School and seeing the children’s manners and having no uniform and this . . . boy, he suffered a lot. I told him to let . . . this is America. Don’t concentrate too much on manners. Just act and do like the other students were. He literally says, “I’m going back to TCV. Please send me back to TCV. I don’t care. I don’t want to stay here.” He didn’t want to stay at all. Then he cried. He never used to like cry and I cry with him. I say it’s bad. I told him, “It’s okay. Soon you will get used to it. Now this is a different country and that’s a different country.” Amala15 also suffered a lot but I’m not telling you anything but I’m getting over it now. See, that’s how life changes. You cannot always have . . . you cannot always have a bed of roses. I told him and no matter how much I loved him, how much . . . like I always make momos16 and [unclear] and no matter what kind of food I give he never eats those days. He was just . . . he says I’m like . . . in TCV as soon as we see a teacher coming from a distance we have to stand at ease, stand up and wait and here when the teacher enters the classroom people just sit back, stretch their legs and . . . the change of culture was striking to this son. TY: Was this your eldest son? TC: Tinley. He was my youngest. Youngest son. Yes. Youngest of all is Somo. Somo also, she says oh, dear. All my children didn’t like this country. They were, especially Tinley, want to go back. Tomorrow only I’m going back. Tomorrow. I had a tough, tough time. But as they went year in and year out . . . I think he stayed like two years, Somo about three, four years. They got used to it. Now they like it. Especially after driving. They got their own car and being able to drive. And now . . . I mean they like it. They like it very much. Now they have got no complaints. Sometimes I tease them. I tell Tinley, “Now do you want to go back?” He says no, he doesn’t. He says, “At first I didn’t like this country.” I said that’s everybody’s feelings. Nobody likes what they are doing at the first time. We as parents suffered more than you guys. I told them we had no places to stay, no . . . what we got to eat was salad. Americans like salad very much, no? But we Tibetans we call it tsa like grass. When we first came there were volunteer family given to one
15 16

Tibetan for mother. Tibetan dumplings.

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Tibetan. So there were only 120 Tibetans. So each Tibetan, those who didn’t know English, two Tibetans are allowed to stay in one American family. So those who knew English just one in that American family. Anyhow the food they ate was . . . of course we are used to meat and cooking. Really, really cook. All the green, salads and all that, we cook. And here suddenly to see a table . . . basin full of salads and dropping that Ranch or . . . we never knew what . . . and then eating it raw was just . . . calling each other. “Did you eat that grass?” [Chuckles] What to do now? There’s nothing else to eat beside that. Literally where the place they put me . . . I was put in Bloomington in some U of M student couple. I stayed with them and the husband was Chinese and girl was American. Now they were divorced, of course. Divorced. Separated. But the food they ate was all this salad and they never . . . they had a small kitchen. They’ll never, ever cook there. Always takes me to Chinese restaurant and what they eat is all worms. And oh, my goodness! Just now to think of it is . . . shrimp. Shrimp. They eat that so much. You know the chopstick and . . . I said, I told them now I’m going to go back and cook. This 120 Tibetans, we had only one utensil . . . That momo where we make the momo. My mom, you know, she force me to take that moktu. She put that quite huge one, you know, huge, brand new. She bought it at the time when I was entering the bus to come to this country. She said moms . . . like moms just now to think of it. They think of your pain in advance than you yourself. They are so . . . she said, “Now you are going to a new country. Although you know the language you may not have work. Sure, it was. Just make momos and sell. [Laughing] But be sure. And I heard there’s a lot of cars and all this on the road. Stay at the roadside and sell momos.” So we had this big moktu you know. And when we were staying in the apartment that moktu went from one apartment to another. Nobody had time to make momos but for tingmo.17 It was the most useful utensil. I still have it. We are making momo right now. [Laughing] So, yes. But now, although everything is settled down and all this, I still feel empty, very sad sometimes. The easiest thing is to shed tears, which I do seldom. I still feel, oh, my goodness. When are we going to get this freedom? Although we are out here, still wherever we go there’s R written on our forehead, refugee, you know? We came to America. Still we have no country. We don’t see our country. Go to India. That’s somebody else’s country. We never see it. So where is our country? What are we going to show these children? And children’s children. Soon Tibetan race is going to . . . like if we don’t get together and get our country fast enough our children’s children are going to, you know, they won’t know anything. So what they’ll do? They’ll go and marry somebody else. And so it’s going to disperse. Completely. There won’t be a . . . right now we all are doing something to get freedom under His Holiness. But what’s going to happen to the next generation? Next to yours? So this is a very, very, very, very important . . . whatever you call it. Century or period. For us to get together, get Americans’ hands to help us. Go shouting UN or wherever.
17

A type of Tibetan bread.

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Literally stay outside UN or in the gate or you know, do what you can but get the freedom. In our life. In this life. TY: You have been so involved as an activist in Tibetan Women’s Association here. How do you feel about His Holiness’ Middle-Way approach? TC: Oh, that I’m not sure, so I’m not going to express it. Anything. I’m not that . . . I haven’t come to that part right now so I cannot give you a false statement so I’m just going to shut up. It’s a good one. Yes. I mean excellent. But I have . . . when I say excellent I got to define it. My excellence. I cannot. Because I’m not involved. TY: Like right now you’ve been in America for over a decade and you are a U.S. citizen. How do you feel about being a U.S. citizen now? TC: What difference it makes? I’m still Tibetan. I’m proud to be a citizen. Proud in the sense that it’s more easy for me to travel around with just a passport and you don’t have to wait and wait and wait for the Green Card or the passport to come to you. That little square book is in your hand. You just take it and take your bag and you go. People out there respect you so much because you’re from this country. But deep down of course, I again feel . . . I feel sad because America is not my country. Still I got to keep like struggling. Keep up. Keep doing things to get the freedom. As old as I am. I’ll still struggle to get my country’s freedom so that I’ll be a what? I’ll die happily in my own country. I don’t want to die in America. No. Not on my citizenship. Maybe . . . I got . . . as a living human being I got citizenship from here. But I want to die in my own country. Get my own country’s citizenship out [unclear]. So that’s why . . . it’s okay. I’m not happy or not sad or . . . I’m not joyous to get this citizenship. It’s nothing. It’s just another passport in your life. TY: Now that you’ve lived here for ten years and there are like monasteries here, Sakya18 Monastery,19 Gelug20 Monastery,21 have you like . . . spiritually do you like go to them? Go to the monasteries? Like attend like any of the religious ceremonies that they put out for the Tibetan community? TC: That’s a very good question. You know, coming from India and being a Tibetan, government employee’s wife. Having so much in contact with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to tell you the truth, I have . . . I can’t say, no, I do believe but I don’t have that sort of believe to go and worship, especially like Sakya or Gelug. I never even knew these monasteries were there. But I go . . . where I go is . . . Gyuto.22 Here, every Sunday we go there because in Dharamsala there’s a big Gyuto monastery. Gyuto monks used to come to our house in Dharamsala. Even these days I call them once in a while to do some [Tibetan] and prayers in my home. But with Sakya, Gelug . . . I’m not . . .
18 19

A school of Tibetan Buddhism. Minnesota Sakya Center for Buddhist Studies and Meditation. A center, but not a monastery. 20 A school of Tibetan Buddhism. 21 Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery. 22 Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery.

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TY: I’m sorry. I meant Gyuto not Gelug.23 I got confused myself. TC: Okay. Okay. Yes. I do. I do have . . . I just literally worship those monks over there and the way . . . the teaching they hold is something . . . so easy to follow. You don’t have that hesitation to even ask them. If you don’t know anything. That’s how I improve my [Tibetan]. Going there every Sunday and then attending . . . staying for [speaks in Tibetan]. Like six days without food and drink and all those with the monks. That creates a lot of attachment, religious attachment between the monks and yourself. So [Tibetan] not only improves your quality but it helps a lot to improve your spiritual quality and therefore knowing all the different . . . the different thangkas,24 and all this, you get in contact with the monks. And some monks . . . there are some monks who think so great of it but when you come near them you hardly know what to say. You are so shiver. Gyuto monks are not like that. They all are so friendly. They really give you excellent teaching. You might be knowing that. They are just excellent. I improved my spiritual relationship in this country because of the hardship I went through. Then when I was in India. TY: So do you think coming to America may have been actually a good choice and may actually have helped you? TC: Yes. I mean I had no choice. There were these thousand Tibetans. We were all . . . our names were just fallen from the wheel of fortune. So we came. Like if it wasn’t for that wheel of fortune I wouldn’t be here and if my husband was still living I wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t want me to be in America. But I am happy because this country literally taught me to see myself inside out. What is hardship? Through hardship you know yourself, your heart. And through hardship you become more spiritually dedicated. That’s what I came to. Now like if I was in India still, I would still be a teacher but to teach them from a book, it’s so easy. But you never learn anything from anybody else because you think you are somebody. Here now nobody cares about you. So you think oh, what happened to me? What did I do? Nobody’s got time to even sit down and talk. Then you just like . . . fill up with religion then. Okay. Om Mani Padme Hum.25 What’s the meaning of money? You got all those time to think about your own self. You know you become so humble because other people disregards you so much. That’s why you become so humble. TY: Do you think—do you mean that it’s out of like the busy schedule that everybody has that there’s no time for people to sit down and always talk all the time? That you have to set appointments to actually meet with friends and things like that? TC: Yes. Yes. Mainly because of the schedules, the busy schedules. Yes. Which makes people so tired, so angry. Like go in the buses where I go every day. Everybody
23

The monks of Gyuto Monastery are Gelugpa monks, or from within the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. 24 A type of Tibetan painting. 25 An important compassion mantra.

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is with their mouth down and either reading a book or . . . just giving you such a look. Why? Why is all this attitude? Because of the work. Work puts you down so much. You got no . . . you can’t be cheerful. And plus those people, if you don’t have a religion like ours which innerly gives you so much the happiness, like so many people . . . all are not Buddhists. They are so many religions. Everybody says he or she is Christian and Muslim or something but they don’t have the same attitude as Buddhism, see. We all are . . . even though we have physical problems we don’t show it. Of course we have emotional problems too but we just go with a smiling face. That’s the difference. TY: That’s about all the questions I have. Is there anything that you’d like to add that you feel is important and I’ve kind of ignored it? TC: No. No. I’m tired also. I talk too much. [Laughing] TY: Thank you very much for participating Tenzin la. TC: Welcome. Let me give you the . . . CL: Thank you very much for participating in our project. TC: Thank you, sir. Thank you. CL: Thank you. TC: Thank you very much for your work. I appreciate so much.

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