Assimilation: Not a pure black and white issue.: Becoming Minnesotan

Tashi Lhewa, c.2005.
  • Name - Tashi Lhewa
  • Age at interview - 24
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 08.28.2005
  • Women celebrate Losar (Tibetan New Year), Minneapolis, March 3, 2006.
    Tenzin Ngawang, Tibetan Community Oral History Project Celebration.

    We Are Here

    Community, Identity, Language, Tibetan

    Essential Question

    We Are Here: What does it mean to this immigrant group to be here in America?

    Cultural Preservation: How does a person weave his or her traditional culture into a new American identity?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Many Tibetan people have fled Tibet since the Chinese invaded in the 1950’s.  Most refugees fled to the neighboring countries of Nepal and India, but many have also immigrated to U.S., Canada, or other places in the world. Regardless of where they settled, it is always difficult for these refugees to feel like they are balancing their traditional culture with the culture of their new home.  Many Tibetans have different opinions about where to draw the line and achieve this “balance.”

    Tibetan refugees have spent fifty years trying to continue their language, religious practices, and traditions like food and music—while living outside of their homeland. For example, it is difficult to maintain your Tibetan identity when you are surrounded by Indian culture and Indian people.  Because of this, Tibetan people often feel even more protective of their culture, because they know it is so much more vulnerable to being lost forever.  

    To learn more about Tibetan history and culture, visit our Tibetan Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Tashi Lhewa 9
    1:47 Minutes | 1.72Mb


    Narrator: Tashi Lhewa (TL)

    TL:  Under the current circumstances I think it’s not so much — I mean I’ve dealt with this issue not only with Tibetans but also just the general notion of assimilation, and I think it’s important. On the one hand, it’s not a pure black and white issue. On the one hand, it’s important to hold onto your language, your culture. I mean Tibetan culture is very important for us. At the same time that shouldn’t blind us and lead to isolation, because I think education is key. As long as you are confident as to where you are as a Tibetan, that identity...I mean I think it’s very important to reach out to educate yourself about other communities and what else — be actively involved in the community, which I think is very important.  So, it has its ups and downs, its plus minuses.

    In India people didn’t face the same cultural shock or the cultural bombardment. I mean people in India, the children over there still retain the Tibetan language. We had little settlements and all that. And over here it’s much harder to do that. So there’s a natural instinct, like you say, with your experiences earlier, there’s a natural instinct to cling together. Especially when we have — Tibet is occupied. Had the circumstances been different people might — Tibetans generally might be a bit more open, but the fact that we’ve always been told that we have to hold onto this identity and it’s always under threat. It’s been fifty years but you have to instill this in the children. So that’s something that’s always there. But I can see — I mean there is a necessity to reach out and at the same time there is a necessity to hold onto our basic language and culture.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  The adoption, by a minority group, of the customs and attitudes of the dominant culture.


    Noun:  Overwhelming, concentrated outpouring. 


    Noun:  The conditions surrounding an event.


    Noun:  A group of people who share a common understanding of the same language, manners, tradition and law.


    Adjective:  Relating to the traditions and customs of a group or society.


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    Noun:  1. Participation in events, leading to knowledge, opinons, or skills.  2. The knowledge thus gathered.


    Noun:  The difference or character that marks off an individual from the everyone else; selfhood; a name or persona by which one is known; knowledge of who one is. 


    Verb:  To cause a quality or characteristic to become a part of someone’s nature.  (instills, instilling, instilled) 


    Adjective:  Complicated.


    Noun:  A state of being separated from the larger group.


    Noun:  Debate; controversy; problem.


    Adjective:  Indispensable; important.


    Noun:  The quality or state of being necessary or unavoidable; that which is necessary; something indispensable.


    Noun:  An idea or conception; an opinion.


    Adjective:  Subjugated, under the control of a foreign military presence.


    Verb:  Hold onto; keep practicing.  (retains, retaining, retained)


    Noun:  A colony that is newly established; a place or region newly settled.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 151