Free Tibet rally held in downtown Portland

Yesterday, Students for a Free Tibet (STF), a Portland State student organization, participated with other local Tibetan cultural associations in a nationwide rally to raise awareness of the human rights violations in Tibet.

Yesterday, Students for a Free Tibet (STF), a Portland State student organization, participated with other local Tibetan cultural associations in a nationwide rally to raise awareness of the human rights violations in Tibet.

STF, the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association (NWTCA) and the Regional Tibetan Youth Conference of Portland-Vancouver (RTYC) organized the rally. It marked the 52nd anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Lhasa, Tibet on March 10, 1959. 

The event began at City Hall, where Tibetan American and Tibetans in exile met to hear a speech by Kalsang Phutshog, president of the NWTCA, and various other speeches. This was followed by recitation of writings by the Dalai Lama, prayer and song. Then, the protesters marched around the downtown area carrying bullhorns and waving Tibetan flags, encircling Pioneer Square and its surrounding blocks.

Tibetan protests have been historically non-violent. The crowd shouted phrases such as “shame China, shame,” while those with bullhorns thanked Portland for recognizing the plight of Tibetans abroad.

Last year, the Portland City Council established March 10 as Tibet Awareness Day. Dechen Bartso, a member of NWTCA, credited Commissioner Randy Leonard for spearheading this effort.

Bartso was born in exile in India, in one of the many refugee villages granted by the Indian government to those who fled the violent takeover in Tibet.

“My grandparents and parents cleared a place and settled the land,” Bartso said. “The Dalai Lama established a fully functional Tibetan government-in-exile to oversee the settlement of lands given by India…it also looked after schools and many other things.”

The Dalai Lama saw education as the primary means of cultural preservation.

“Education was a priority,” Bartso said.

The establishment of a government allowed for the maintenance of Tibetan culture despite Chinese oppression. Dawa Deteng, a member of the RTYC, was present at the rally and spoke to the need for cultural preservation.

 “Tibet was an independent country, but China still took over,” Deteng said. “They are trying to change the culture and ban the Tibetan language.”

Tenzin Yangchen is a member of PSU’s branch of SFT. As a Tibetan refugee, Yangchen feels a deep connection to the violence against Tibet. The cultural genocide in Tibet, she explained, is an “ongoing and blatant violation of human rights,” but because Tibetan protest is non-violent, they don’t get as much international press coverage as other countries.

 “I feel it is very important to let students on to what is happening in Tibet and around the world in general,” Yangchen said. “After all, we are and should be the ones leading worldwide movements in social justice.”

Yangchen’s feelings were echoed by Deteng and Bartso, who both cited instances of violence and unjust imprisonment of Tibetan protesters by the Chinese government. Bartso related the story of Dhundop Wangchen, who was detained for six years for taking photos that documented everyday life in Tibet.

China shuts down every effort to support Tibetan independence, which is a sign of insecurity on their part, according to Bartso. She cited a Chinese diplomat’s appeal to the Portland city government to revoke the proclamation of Tibet Awareness Day. She says the Chinese are hoping that “the Tibet issue will die.”

But given the nationwide presence of Tibetans in the United States and the congressional recognition of the human rights violations occurring in Tibet, many feel hopeful.

“We have freedom in America, we can express without fear, express our feelings,” Deteng said.

The groups involved in the rally emphasize the need for free nations like the U.S. to act on behalf of the Tibetans.  

“I personally believe we have reached a very exciting phase in our fight,” Yangchen said. “We have been seeing a rise in a new kind of uprising, especially among the younger generation, which is evident in the kind of literature, poetry and songs that have been coming out from inside Tibet.”

The number of young, American-born Tibetans at the event evidenced her notion.

“They are very spirited,” Bartso said of the young people involved in organizations like RTYC. “They want to preserve their culture.”

Yangchen echoed this sentiment.

“I know firsthand what it is like to be ‘stateless,’ to have and yet not have a country to call your own,” Yangchen said. “When someone asks me where I am from, I want to be able to say Tibet and have people recognize that it is a country of its own.” ?