Rising up while quarantined - Albuquerque Journal

Rising up while quarantined

Incense filled the air as members of the Tibetan Association of Santa Fe hold a Tibetan National Uprising Day event at their center on Wednesday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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In years past, members of the Tibetan Association of Santa Fe and their supporters would commemorate Tibetan National Uprising Day by marching from the association’s home base to the state Capitol, where prayers were recited and a slate of speakers delivered messages promoting freedom and human rights in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Then, dozens of demonstrators would march down to the city’s historic Plaza to spread their message to anyone within earshot, carrying signs and shouting out call-and-response slogans:

“What do we want?”


“What do we want?”


“What do we want?”

“Human rights!”

But not this year.

While cases of COVID-19 finally seem to be diminishing in New Mexico, the virus is still here and organizers of the annual march decided to tread more softly this year.

The Tibetan Association of Santa Fe members pray at an event held to bring attention to the free Tibet movement. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“In the past, we had so many public supporters from all over the world. Because of COVID-19, we have to do it small,” said Dorjee Gyaltsen, one of the organizers of the march, typically held on March 10 to mark the anniversary of the failed uprising in Tibet against Communist China in 1959.

That led to the Dalai Lama’s exile, the exodus of tens of thousands of others and a crackdown on Tibetan independence movements by the Chinese government.

The anniversary is recognized each year in cities across the world. But, this year in Santa Fe, the commemoration was reduced to only about a dozen masked people confined to the courtyard of the Tibetan Association center on Hickox Street.

There, the small group gathered to shout out those same call-and-responses, and sing and pray that one day Tibet would be independent and free.

Sixty-two years after the uprising, there’s still hope.

A group gathered in the Tibetan Association of Santa Fe’s courtyard to recognize Tibetan National Uprising Day with songs and prayers. Pictured is Dorjee Gyaltsen with other members of the group tossing barley in the air as an offering and wish for good luck. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Gyaltsen is excited that, late last year, Congress passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, later signed into law by President Trump. It establishes a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and makes it U.S. policy that the succession of Tibetan leaders, including the Dalai Lama, be left up to Tibetan Buddists without interference from China.

“Which is great support from the U.S.A.,” Gyaltsen said.

The U.S. and China are, however, at odds on many issues, though the Biden administration hopes to break the ice on some of them later this week when senior officials meet in Anchorage, Alaska.

In the courtyard of the Tibet center, incense burned from a chiminea while the group of mostly Tibetan descendants wearing traditional garments assembled for an informal ceremony.

Gyaltsen held the large photo of the 14th Dalai Lama mounted on a post he usually carries during the march. Others held Tibetan flags and there was one U.S. flag flapping in the wind alongside them Wednesday morning.

They began by singing the Den-tsik Monlam.

“It’s a prayer for the people who have risked their lives for freedom,” Tashi Dolma, one of the women in the group, later explained.

“Words of truth,” added a man who identified himself as Gurmey, vice president of the Tibetan Association of Santa Fe, translating the title.

Gurmey came to the U.S. from Tibet about 20 years ago, he said, and has returned for visits several times since then.

While he loves his homeland, it’s different for him now as the Chinese government is keeping a watchful eye on what happens in the region.

“When you go back, there’s always someone behind you,” he said. “They don’t want human rights.”

The group also sang the Tibetan national anthem and said a prayer for protection, punctuated by the celebratory tossing of a pinch of barley – a staple crop in Tibet – into the air.

“It’s a small offering,” Gyaltsen said of the good luck ritual also performed at weddings and to mark a new year.

He and the 150 others at the Tibetan Association pray that, some day, they can celebrate a free Tibet and that the U.S. can help make it happen.

The Washington Post reported last week that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with their Chinese counterparts to discuss environmental issues, trade, intellectual property rights, cybersecurity and human rights.

Blinken last week accused China of committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims, a charge the Chinese refute.

Tibet is sure to come up in the conversations as, in advance of the meeting, a State Department spokesperson last week reiterated the updated U.S. policy regarding Tibet.

“We believe that the Chinese government should have no role in the succession process of the Dalai Lama,” Ned Price told reporters, adding that Chinese interference in selecting his eventual successor would be “an outrageous abuse of religious freedom.”

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