ITHACA, N.Y.—Under a slow downfall of fat snowflakes, members of Ithaca’s Tibetan community gathered on Friday to observe Tibetan Uprising Day.
For Tibetans and their allies, March 10 commemorates a pivotal moment in Tibet’s history when, in 1959, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, fled into India for fear of being kidnapped. The People’s Republic of China cracked down on and suppressed armed uprisings from the Tibetan people who aimed to end Chinese occupation of the region.
Those events would eventually lead to Namgyal Monastery being built in Ithaca, and the development of the Dalai Lama Library and Learning Center. While it’s currently being built, it is set to make Ithaca a destination for the global Buddhist community.
The People’s Republic of China occupied Tibet in the early 1950s, promising that the country would retain a high degree of autonomy. Decades later, reports of the Chinese government pushing Tibetans into labor camps and reeducation programs are emerging, and have been labeled as efforts at religious and cultural assimilation aimed at the region.
On Friday, Tenzin Aaya, a member of Ithaca’s Tibetan community, told The Ithaca Voice that the gathering she was a part of was to let the world know, “We need our freedom back. We need our country back. We just want people to know that we are refugees and we want our freedom back.”
In the 1990’s, 1,000 displaced Tibetans living in India and Nepal would receive immigration visas to the U.S. through the Tibetan Resettlement Project. Ithaca had become an area rife with interest in Eastern religion, particularly in Buddhism, and the resettlement project would begin the uptick of the Tibetan population in the area.
Allen Carlson, a professor at Cornell University whose research work has focused on Tibet and China, said Tibetan Uprising Day “is the most important political event on the calendar for Tibetans in the diaspora. It’s something that most Americans know nothing about, and yet in Ithaca it has a visible presence.”
Carlson said that, “Hopefully increased international attention to this issue will help raise awareness and […] draw the Chinese into a willingness to restart or begin a dialogue with the Tibetans over questions of self determination and autonomy and independence.”
The opportunity to speak out is a weighty one for Tibetans. Tenzin Tsokyi, a board member of the Tibetan Association of Ithaca, said that “We [are] in a free country, where we can raise voice, we remember those who sacrifice their lives for those who cannot raise voice in Tibet.”
She said, “On March 10, we try to shed light on what’s happening in Tibet and how people are still suffering in Tibet.”