Tibetan ceremony honors the new Dalai Lama Avenue
on October 18, 2019
A sunset Buddhist ceremony at Richmond’s Huntington Avenue and San Joaquin Street consecrated the renaming of a stretch of Huntington after the Dalai Lama on the 12th anniversary of the spiritual leader’s receipt of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.
About seventy Tibetan community members, three Buddhist monks and City Councilmember Eduardo Martinez gathered Thursday evening to present symbolic food offerings, and knotted white scarves representing compassion around the post marking the new Dalai Lama Avenue. The religious leader visited Richmond’s Tibetan community five years ago.
Richmond’s City Council unanimously passed the Tibetan Association of North America’s (TANC’s) resolution earlier this month to rename its block of Huntington after the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. The new Dalai Lama Avenue holds political and personal meaning for Richmond’s Tibetan residents, many of whom immigrated to the U.S. following years of exile.
The status of Tibet has long been a contentious issue on the global stage. While Tibet claims it is independent, China asserts it is an autonomous region within China. The United Nations has urged China to address claims of human rights violations there. Chinese leaders , speaking before the world body, have defended its record of cultural and religious freedom in the region. Still, local Tibetan community members who spoke with Richmond Confidential consider China’s presence “an occupation.”
Jamyang Dhondup’s parents sent him from rural eastern Tibet across the Himalayas to Nepal when he was around ten. They feared that the Communist Party curriculum China enforced in Tibet’s schools after its occupation of the country in 1950 would erode Dhondup’s Tibetan identity, he said.
“[We were] not allowed to learn our own language, our own culture,” said Dhondup, who is TANC’s vice president, adding that educated Tibetans couldn’t get good jobs. China’s resettlement efforts have raised Tibet’s Chinese population to more than half of the 13.5 million people living in that region in 2018, according to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, which assists stateless national groups.
Tibet’s government-in-exile in Nepal sent Dhondup to a Tibetan settlement in India, where he attended school with roughly 2,000 other kids, many refugees like him. He received asylum in the U.S. in 2018.
Dhondup said he didn’t understand the situation in Tibet when he was young. “When I was a kid, the Chinese told us the Dalai Lama is a monster. When I was a kid, I believed the Dalai Lama was a monster,” he says.
Former TANC president Tenzin Rangdol represents a later generation of Tibetans born in exile, and has never seen Tibet. He was born in a 10,000-member Tibetan settlement in India. Because Tibet is not accorded independent nation status, he said he was without identity documents until 2017, when he became a U.S. citizen. Tibetans are “global citizens,” he said.
In Richmond, Dhondup coordinated Sunday morning Tibetan lessons for children. While he thinks weekly classes aren’t enough to preserve Tibetan culture, TANC is working on starting a chartered elementary school that would teach Tibetan as a second language. “In school, I got everything from other organizations. I can contribute. Now, it’s reciprocal,” he said.
On Thursday night, a panel including Jain Thapa, an aide to Rep. Barbara Lee; local Buddhist monk Lobsang Cheophel; Councilmember Martinez and Rangdol faced an audience of Bay Area Tibetan community members in TANC’s whitewashed meeting hall. Behind them stood a golden throne, heavy with ceremonial scarves and seating a framed portrait of the Dalai Lama. It is the throne the Dalai Lama used when he visited Richmond to bless the association in 2014.
From a podium, Rangdol, vice president Dhondup and TANC Secretary Tsering Choedup thanked the City Council and Reps. Barbara Lee and Mark DeSaulnier for their assistance. “You all have been incredible in terms of lending us unvarying support,” Rangdol said. “To show your solidarity to people in Tibet…the Richmond city council, has been [a] champion,” he said.
Councilmember Martinez spoke, saying, “Richmond is a mosaic of many communities, and as a Richmond City Council [member] I must represent all of them.”
Dhondup said he is glad Richmond’s Tibetan kids can now see their community leader’s name on a local street, and predicts that its presence will encourage cleanliness and safety there. “We have the feeling that the Dalai Lama is always with us,” he said.
“I believe that names have power, and that power comes from the deeds that are done behind that name,” Councilmember Martinez said. “The Dalai Lama has a name with much, much power and it comes from the deeds that he’s done. And it’s only right that a name such as Dalai Lama would have a street of its own.”
Video by Chan’Cellore Makanjuola.
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