Friday, July 20, 2012

Tibetan Immigrants in the United States: Extended Version

The first large group of Asian immigrants to the United States were the Chinese; they came under a contract labor system to work in farms, mines, railroads, and other dirty, dangerous, and demeaning work (Martin, 2011). Between 1848 and 1882, an estimated 300,000 Chinese came to the United States, many borrowing large sums of money from others for their transport. A Chinese immigrant’s decision to leave home was often based more on economics than on attraction toward religious or political freedoms offered by the United States (ThinkQuest, 2011). They migrated to the United States to get away from natural disasters, crop failures, rapid population growth and conflicts, and competition from imported textiles from the Western countries in China (Martin, 2011). However, these Chinese immigrants were generally denied the right of citizenship and many of them could not return to their home country due to the high cost of return transportation. Unlike European immigrants, most Asian immigrants, including Chinese, settled initially on the West coast.

As noted earlier, the Chinese were the first group of Asian immigrants in the United States though they were denied the prospect of naturalization (See earlier discussion of the Naturalization Act of 1870). In 1882, for the first time in the history of the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed barring a whole nationality from immigration to the United States (Martin, 2011; ThinkQuest, 2011). However, the immigration door for Asian immigrants including Chinese opened again with the passage of the 1965 Immigration Reform Act where everyone was generally viewed as equal in the eyes of the U.S. law.

Due to the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, more than half of the new immigrants to the United States were from Latin America, and 25% from Asia (Nieto & Bode, 2010). Moreover, the influx of Asian immigrants over the last three decades expanded the Asian American population in the United States from less than 1.5 million in 1970 to about 11 million in 2000 (Min, 1995; U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Many Asian immigrants continue to fall under the category of “voluntary” immigrants. Ogbu (1991) theorized that regardless of race, voluntary minorities (those who willingly migrate to a country) are often more optimistic about the connection between hard work and success. According to Ogbu, voluntary immigrants are motivated to succeed economically because of their faith in the American dream (Nieto & Bode, 2010).

According to Suarez-­Orozco (2001) and Min (2004), many Asian immigrants earned some level of education from their home country prior to their immigration in the United States. They further noted immigrants now, especially those from Asia, were among the best-­educated and most skilled individuals in the United States. This may be true since Asian Americans were generally confident about financial returns for their investment in education in the United States (Goyette & Xie, 1999). Moreover, because of their marginal status in the U.S. society, Asian Americans of all ethnic groups may view education as the best means to overcome discrimination and other barriers to achieving high social status (Xie & Goyette, 1998). This view was supported by Barringer, Takeuchi, and Xenos (1990) and Hirschman and Wong (1986); they suggest Asian American adults as a group attained more education than other minorities or native-­‐born Americans.

Though many college educated Asian immigrants have high earnings from professional and managerial occupations, many others struggle, trapped in low-­level service-­related jobs (Min, 2004). In other words, to claim that all Asian immigrants are doing well, socially and economically, in the United States is untrue. As Suarez-­Orozco (2001) indicated, today’s immigrants in the United States are a highly heterogeneous group of peoples that defy easy generalizations. This seems also true within and between Asian American groups.

Nonetheless, although there are significant differences within each major type of immigration, there is reason to believe that manual labor migrants, foreign professionals, entrepreneurial groups, and refugees share a number of characteristics with other immigrants. In other words, immigrants from different nations, entering the United States as professionals and finding positions in their fields, tend to have more similar adaptation experiences than those typical of immigrant laborers from their respective countries (Portes & Rumbaut, 1996). Therefore, immigrant groups generally share many similarities of their immigration experiences in the United States and these similarities may be more so within and between the Asian immigrant groups. Within the Asian immigrant groups, there is a growing number of new immigrants who identify themselves as Tibetan immigrants.

The first major group of Tibetan refugees to settle in the United States was supported by the 1990 U.S. Immigration Act through which 1000 Tibetan refugees from South Asia immigrated to the U.S. under a resettlement program (Bay Area Friends of Tibet, 2010; Hess, 2006; The New York Times, 1991).  Moreover, a 1988 U.S. Congress Bill (Public Law 104-­319; 22 U.S.C. 2151 note) sponsored Tibetan refugee students each year to study in American universities to obtain degree and non-­degree education and trainings in the United States (Dharlo, 1994).  According to the Tibetan Scholarship Program (TSP) Website, some of these students chose to remain and settle in the United States (TSP Alumni Association, 2010).  Following these initial settlers, other Tibetans came to the United States as temporary visitors, professionals, and under the Family Reunification Program.  As of July 2010, there were around 10,000 Tibetan immigrants in the United States (L. Nyendak, personal communication, July 13, 2010).

A large number of Tibetan immigrants with “temporary visitor visas” seek asylum once they enter the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “To be eligible for refugee or asylum status, an applicant must meet the definition of a refugee set forth in 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-­founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (p. 1)” (Martin, 2010).  Though this definition emphasized “refugee”, it also applied to “asylum” in the United States. Tibetans do not qualify as refugees (discussed below).  However, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) identify them as asylum seekers.

The U.S. government officially recognizes Tibet as a part of China and Tibetans as citizens of the People’s Republic of China (Dumbaugh, 2008; Obama, 2011).  This is evident when a Tibetan is granted asylum under race, nationality, political, or religious circumstances.  Many Tibetans are surprised to learn that their identity on paper is “Chinese”, officially recognized as “Overseas Chinese” (Wangdi, 2008).  See appendix J for a copy of the U.S. official document where a Tibetan applicant was granted asylum in 2011 as a citizen of China.  This is a concern shared by many Tibetan immigrants in the United States (Hess, 2006).  For instance, in the 2010 U.S. census, Tibetans were often urged to mark themselves as “other” than “Chinese” under the race category (L. Nyendak, personal communication, July 13, 2010).  The issue of race has become rather problematic for Tibetan immigrants as well as researchers of Tibetan immigrants.  First, it is impossible to determine the total number of Tibetan immigrants in the United States by using government records.  Second, a majority of Tibetans who seek asylum do not possess Chinese citizenship to identify as “Chinese American” or “Overseas Chinese”.  Third and finally, Tibetans generally do not consider themselves Chinese.  Though the problem continues to exist for census takers, for the purpose of this study, the term “Tibetan immigrant” means the following: first, Tibetans are culturally, spiritually, politically, and historically unique people and different from Chinese (Blondeau & Buffetrille, 2008) and; second, the existing Office of Tibet in New York City provides a symbolic representation of Tibetans in the United States.

In addition to the issue of identity discussed earlier, moving to a foreign country is not easy for a Tibetan, even under the most propitious circumstances.  It requires elaborate preparations, much expense, giving up personal relations at home, and often learning a new language and culture (Portes & Rumbaut, 1996).  Many Tibetans spend money and energy to immigrate to the United States, a nation many Tibetans consider a land of opportunity and freedom.

Once they reach the United States, Tibetan immigrants often support their families back home in India, Nepal, Bhutan, or Tibet with the money earned in their new country of residence (Gyaltag, 2004).  Having a culture that strongly values the importance of family wellbeing, Tibetan immigrants generally spend more time, energy, and money in helping their families than on their own future (Wangdi, 2008).  Because of strong ties with family back home and with the local Tibetan community, the acculturation of Tibetan immigrants tends to be slow. In New York City, for example, Tibetan immigrant parents often fail to understand the local school education system and policies that effect their children’s education.  Though it may not be irrational to maintain one’s own culture, values, identity, and community in the United States, an immigrant must also realize the importance of selective acculturation to acquire a better paying job and a higher standard of living.  Olneck (2004) supported this notion that immigrants should maintain ethnic loyalty as well as participate in ethnic communities combined with their acculturation to American culture.  Brumberg (1986) also added credence to the importance of new immigrants sharing in the American life and achieving the required knowledge for their successful participation in a modern urban society.

Many Tibetan immigrants anticipate obtaining better-­paying jobs, indicating the presence of some motivation towards upward mobility.  Ogbu, who studied the differences between voluntary and involuntary immigrants, supported the presence of a motivation to succeed economically among voluntary immigrants, such as Tibetans, in the United States (Neito & Bode, 2010).  As with other Asian Americans (Goyette & Xie, 1999), Tibetan immigrants are also generally confident about financial returns from education in the United States.  However, from my personal experiences, many adult Tibetans seem uncomfortable or are reluctant to continue learning once their formal education is completed, they get settled into a job, or they get married and have children.  This reluctance towards continuous learning may be changing in the United States (hopefully, my study may shed some light on this).

As with Mainland Chinese and Indians (from South Asia), Tibetan immigrants also share a preference to settle in New York City where there is a relatively high level of both ethnic diversity and concentration (Portes & Rumbaut, 1996).  New York’s flourishing Chinatown and Jackson Heights (Indian concentrated area) seem to provide the lure for many new Tibetan immigrants.  As of July 2010, out of the estimated 10,000 Tibetan immigrants in the United States, around 7,000 were concentrated in the area of New York and New Jersey (L. Nyendak, personal communication, July 13, 2010).  There seems to be no precise data distinguishing how many Tibetan immigrants reside in New York City and in New Jersey.  But, from my personal observations, the population in New Jersey may not be more than 1,000 Tibetan immigrants; they tend to have better living standards than the majority who lives in the five boroughs of New York City.

Tibetan preference for New York City was supported by some scholars who argued that successful adaptation in the United States among immigrants may relate to the patterns of cultural, economic, and social capital they were able to deploy in the new land through the support of peers (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001).  Perhaps, most important, New York City provides an opportunity for undocumented jobs for Tibetan immigrants to survive economically while they go through the asylum application process of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

However, most immigrants in New York City work in low-­skilled, low-­paying jobs, which not only demand hard labor but also long working hours (Asian American Justice Center, 2007; Min, 2004; Wrigley et. al., 2009).  From my personal experiences, this finding rings generally true among Tibetan immigrants in New York City.

*An excerpt from the dissertation, "Skills education for adult Tibetan immigrants in the United States: Identification, prioritization, resources, and challenges" 2012, Page 28-32.

Read also: Dominance of Rumor-based Facts in Immigrant Communites

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thinking Unnecessarily On...

More than a year ago
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Devolved his political power
The new Central Tibetan Administration formed
Duly elected by Tibetans in Diaspora
Representing the Greater Tibet

More than a year ago
Lodi Gyari wrote
The Way Forward on Tibet
Advocating Middle Way Policy
A forward looking approach

Lodi Gyari resigned a year after
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's resignation
Leaving the new Dharamsala administration
A lone fighter
For a meaningful autonomy

With twin resignations of
Two key proponents of Middle Way Approach
Would it be wise to say?
"The MWA failed" and/or
Will Tibetans adopt a new forward looking approach?

There is no stopping of
Self-immolations in Tibet
But there is a stopping of
Solidarity movements in exile

With Kashag's instruction
Tibetans in exile
Celebrated the HH's birthday
On a grand scale

A day after the birthday
A Tibetan self-immolated in Tibet
When most Tibetans in exile
Were in festive moods
With new clothes and jewelries
Delicious foods and Tibetan dances

I wonder now
Are self-immolations becoming
Too mainstream?
Even for Tibetans :(

If self-immolations are not stopped
Tibet issue may see an uncertain death
In the international media
And in the geo-political arena

Tibet is burning
Nothing is improving
No one is stopping
Tibetans are protesting

Another protest coming
Whether the world listen or not
Whether the UN speak or not
Tibetans will protest

Improvement or no improvements
Tibetans will raise slogans
Listen or no listen
Tibetans will shout
India, Nepal, or the UN
Tibetans will walk the streets
Hear or no hear
Tibetans will talk
Momo or curry
Tibetans will eat

Are Tibetans
Good only for these:
Shout, walk, talk, or eat?

Tibetan way of protest is too mainstream
The biggest fear right now is
Self-immolations going mainstream
Tibetans cannot afford this

I am
Thinking Unnecessarily On...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tibetan Immigrants in the United States

Though currently Tibet is a nation occupied by the People’s Republic of China, the Tibetan people generally view themselves as people of Tibet.  As a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and temporal leader and some 80,000 Tibetans initially took refugee in India, Nepal, and Bhutan (Lama, 1998; Lopez, 1998;, 2010).  In these three countries, Tibetans established refugee communities and within these communities, Tibetans were frequently cited as models of successfully coping with the challenges of refugee life and of preserving cultural identity in-­‐exile (Mahmoudi, 1992).  Particularly in India, Tibetans established many Tibetan schools with the support of the Government of India and foreign donors.  Until 2005, Tibetan schools in India followed an education system structured primarily on the host country India’s needs (Department of Education, 2005).  Under this education system, Tibetan students generally were instructed according to the policies and curriculums prescribed by the Indian Board of Education that embraced the English language as the primary language of instruction (Rigzin, 2004).  As a result, many adult Tibetans in India obtained their school education with English as their primary language of instruction.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) ‐‐ established in India after the failed uprising in Tibet in 1959 ‐‐ administers Tibetan exile communities and schools.  The Tibetan people’s recognition and confidence in CTA is evident from the incessant flow of Tibetans from Chinese‐controlled Tibet since 1979 when China opened its Tibet border generally to Tibetans inside Tibet as well as to the outside world (Office of the Reception Centers, 1997).  Tibetans seek refuge in India for better education, religious freedom, socioeconomic prospects, and for cherished democratic ideals, among others.  However, according to Samdhong Rinpoche, the last executive head of CTA, the Tibetan Diaspora was experiencing a paradigm shift with many young Tibetans preferring to settle in the West, including the United States (Sehgal, 2011).  A short description of this paradigm shift in the United States is briefly discussed below. 

Increased opportunity for young and educated Tibetan refugees to study in the United States began in 1988, when the U.S. Congress passed a bill to sponsor Tibetan refugee students each year to study in American universities (U.S. Department of State, 2010): the Tibetan Scholarship Program (TSP).  As of April 2010, under the TSP, 364 Tibetan refugee students received or earned their education from American universities, myself being one of them (TSP Alumni Association, 2010).  Two years later, the passage of the 1990 U.S. Immigration Act allowed an additional 1000 Tibetan refugees from South Asia to immigrate to the U.S. under a resettlement program (Bay Area Friends of Tibet, 2010; Hess, 2006; The New York Times, 1991).  Through these initial settlement opportunities, other Tibetan refugees started to take interest in settling in the United States to avail themselves of opportunities for a better livelihood, health, career, education, and the prospect of naturalization, among others.  The Government of the United States supported the increasing interest of Tibetans by providing higher education scholarships, sponsoring resettlement programs (noted earlier), and favorably considering requests for political asylum in general.

With the Tibetan scholarship and resettlement programs (previously noted), Tibetan immigration to the United States increased.  According to the Office of Tibet (OoT) ­‐‐ the Official Agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Administration to the Americas, New York City ‐‐ the estimated population of Tibetan immigrants in North America in 2010 was around 15,000.  Of the 15,000, roughly 10,000 resided in the United States (L. Nyendak, personal communication, July 13, 2010).  During the June 2010 visit to New York City, the Executive Head of Central Tibetan Administration and Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in‐exile, it was estimated there were around 7,000 or more Tibetan immigrants in the New York­‐New Jersey area alone (L. Nyendak, personal communication, July 13, 2010).  However, some argue that the Tibetan immigrant populations in the United States is comparatively higher than the official figure of 10,000, as several Tibetan immigrants neither associate with the OoT, New York City nor with any local Tibetan community association.  Therefore, the precise total population of Tibetan immigrants in the United States remains unknown.

The Tibetan immigrant populations in the United States generally include Tibetans coming from the three refugee communities in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, as well as Tibetans from Chinese‐controlled Tibet.  In other words, the United States continues to provide a safe haven for Tibetans migrating from other parts of the world.  By 2010, Tibetan immigrants had succeeded in setting up community, youth, and regional associations throughout the United States: there are 25 Tibetan associations and 23 Tibet support groups in the United States (The Office of Tibet, 2011).  Tibetans celebrate the Tibetan New Year and other festivals, and remain connected to their own community of peoples (Wangdi, 2008).  In the last couple of years, as previously discussed, the population of Tibetan immigrants in the United States has grown.  As of 2010, the largest concentration of Tibetan immigrants is in the New York and New Jersey area (Tibetan Community of NY&NJ, 2010). 

Irrespective of the total population, Tibetan immigrants, those literate as well as illiterate, generally struggle in the United States; they struggle with a new system of governance, communication, transportation, naturalization, career, health, education, lifestyle, and a foreign culture.  To put it differently, Tibetan immigrants struggle with the social, economic, and political circumstances of their new country.  This study focuses on skills education that may help support the transition of adult Tibetan immigrants’ settlement in the United States.  As a Tibetan refugee myself, I have seen Tibetan immigrants in New York City pay the hefty sum of U.S. $1000 to an agency for help to complete their Green Card application form.  This is one example of the need for skills education for adult Tibetan immigrants in the United States in general and in New York City in particular.

Understandably, with the growing Tibetan immigrant populations in the United States, there is a subsequent growth in the number of organizations that aim at supporting settlement in their new country of residence.

*An excerpt from the dissertation, "Skills education for adult Tibetan immigrants in the United States: Identification, prioritization, resources, and challenges" 2012, Page 2-6.