Co-founder of the Tibetan American Foundation to aid refugees.: Becoming Minnesotan

Thupten Dadak.
  • Name - Thupten Dadak
  • Age at interview - 52
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 07.26.2005
  • Gyen Gendun Kalsang and other Buddhist monks.
    Tibetan monks make a Sand Mandala.  Photo courtesy Wangyal Ritzekura.

    We Are Here

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    Essential Question

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

    Contributions: How is America better off because of this group of immigrants?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    After 1990 the Tibetan Resettlement Project brought one thousand Tibetan immigrants to the U.S. These immigrants were placed in one of twenty two cluster sites around the U.S.  The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul was one of the original sites. 

    Because of the requirement that only one family member could apply for a U.S. visa, many Tibetans came without friends or family.  The Tibetan American Foundation was started to support these newcomers by helping them find jobs, housing, and other necessities to get them settled in the U.S.  Later, the organization also began working to educate Americans on the struggles of Tibetan refugees.     

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

    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • Chapter 3
    • Chapter 4

    Download Thupten Dadak 5
    1:41 Minutes | 1.63Mb


    Narrator: Thupten Dadak (TD)

    Interviewer: Tsewang Sangmo Lama (TL)

    TD:  Well, I have experience because in 1991 when the Resettlement Project start, I was coordinating the Resettlement Project in Minnesota, and I founded Tibetan American Foundation in 1991 and I am co-founder of it. At the time, I’m the only Tibetans, but we have 400 American members. All the board members are all American except myself. Those 400 members provide everything for the Tibetans who settle in Minnesota. So, now, we have about 1,500. And I always tell to the Tibetans, even His Holiness, these are due to the kindness of the people of Minnesota. So I have great appreciation of that

    TL:  These 400 members, how did you approach them, like as a sponsor or did you have a hard time—?

    TD:  First of all that 1991, I have opportunity to travel with the Gyuto monks because I studied their monastery. Then [in] 1991, the tour started again, and then they come to Minnesota and we have a lot of program here during their visit. We did a sand mandala at the Institute of Art and we did a sand mandala at the Landmark Center and we did a lot of programs in the colleges, the University. At that time, I promote the Resettlement Project, as well as Tibetan American Foundation.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Thupten Dadak 6
    1:30 Minutes | 1.45Mb


    Narrator: Thupten Dadak (TD)

    TD:  The Tibetan American Foundation, the first mission is to resettle the Tibetans — 160, we started 160. And once they’re resettled, then to keep our culture and promote the Tibetan culture. And then the third one is to introduce what the Chinese had done to the Tibetan. So how to help the human rights issues and things like that.

    Then they signed it up, and then we have board of directors. And then we have different committees, because there are 1,000 who are come as Resettlement Project that don’t have like Hmongs or Vietnamese or Cambodians or Somalians. They have fundings from the state and also the Federal Government. But the Tibetans, they did not have a funding from any of this, because American government recognizes Tibet as still a part of China.

    So they are the ones say, they are refugees. But it’s just honor to His Holiness 1,000 Tibetan to come to America. Minnesota is one of the largest, largest area — Resettlement Project.

    Continues in Chapter 3

    Download Thupten Dadak 7
    1:4 Minutes | 1.04Mb


    Narrator: Thupten Dadak (TD)

    Interviewer: Charles Lenz (CL)

    CL:  Were there so many Tibetans that came to Minnesota simply because there were many, many sponsors willing to help them?

    TD:  Yes. That’s the whole — the sponsors and the jobs. That’s part of the organization, you know. Our organization is very devoted to help with, first, to settle those Tibetans. We have probably twelve board members; almost they do their full time job as a volunteer base.

    CL:  Do you think that — because you mentioned the Cambodians and the Somalis and the very large Hmong population in Minnesota — do you think because Minnesota had so much experience working with other immigrant groups already that that helped a lot when the Tibetans came?

    TD:  Ah, I believe so. That’s the one thing I was talking about. The Minnesotan people, because they seems very conservative. But it comes the reality to see needs, then they are there. I believe that’s the one case.

    Continues in Chapter 4

    Download Thupten Dadak 8
    2:44 Minutes | 2.64Mb


    Narrator: Thupten Dadak (TD)

    Interviewers: Tsewang Sangmo Lama (TL) and Charles Lenz (CL)

    TL:  When these Tibetan immigrants came into Minnesota, how long did they live with their sponsors?

    TD:  They lived six months. Six months and then they have to move their apartment. We set up this kind of the rules. All the Tibetan has stayed the six month and everybody has to move after six month because they have to share their apartments. Then the jobs are very much what skills they have, you know. First time they come, and a lot of them doesn’t have a skill. So, we have very basic jobs, cleaning jobs, but that’s the way of immigrants.

    CL:  When you were setting all this up and working with the selection committee, did you work with any other community in the U.S.?

    TD:  Yes, we have a kind of network. All the different state coordinators have meetings and talk about how we solve the problems or how can we do in effective way. 

    CL:  Do you still have contact with any of those groups or people at all?

    TD:  Um, not any more. Not any more. Because, for example, myself, I stay as executive director, in 1991, we started, and until 1996. Then I stay as a board member for many years, because our board members are Tibetans. Once Tibetan came, Tibetans we have election, who ever be organization board member, not somebody picks up. Is a community election. So, the people elected me several years. But I was as executive director for 1996. Then, I kind of resigned because I want to give opportunity to other fellow Tibetans who have done some Tibetan exile government service and they have some experience. That is very much, also, other coordinators have done. Once a Tibetan arrives, it’s kind of give to the community and let the community handle the organization level. So, there’s not so many original who started any Resettlement Project or organizations America who really with Resettlement Project. They are, right now, mostly done by the Tibetan community.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  1. A just valuation or estimate of merit, worth, weight, etc.; recognition of excellence.  2. Accurate perception; true estimation.


    Verb:  To come near.  (approaches, approaching, approached)

    Noun:  A manner in which a problem is solved or policy is made.


    Noun: 1. A committee that manages the business of an organization. 2. Regular meals or the amount paid for them in a place of lodging.


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


    Adjective:  Tending to resist change.


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


    Adjective:  Dedicated; committed to something.


    Noun:  1. The state of being banished from one's home or country.  2. Someone who is banished from one's home or country.

    Verb:  To send into exile.  (exiles, exiling, exiled)


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


    Verb:  To establish; to set-up.  (founds, founding, founded)


    Noun:  Someone who starts or establishes something new, like an organization or company.


    Noun:  Source of revenue (money) to maintain services.

    His Holiness

    A title given to the Dalai  Lama, the supreme head of Tibetan Buddhism and spritual leader of the Tibetan people.

    human rights

    Noun:  The basic rights and freedoms that all humans should be guaranteed, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.


    Noun:  A person who comes to a country to permanently settle from another country.


    Noun:  Debate; controversy; problem.


    Noun:  A purpose or duty.


    Noun:  Place of residence for members of a religious community (especially monks).


    Noun:  A male member of a monastic order who has devoted his life for religious service.


    Verb:  To interact socially for the purpose of getting connections or personal advancement.  (networks, networking, networked)

    Noun:  An interconnected group or system.


    Noun:  A chance for advancement, progress, or profit.


    Verb:  1. To raise someone or something to a more important or responsible job, rank, or position.  2. To advocate or urge on behalf of something or someone.  (promotes, promoting, promoted)


    Noun:  A person forced to leave his or her own country and seek refuge in a foreign country out of fear of persecution or violence or because of poverty or natural disaster.


    Verb:  To establish a home in a different place.  (resettles, resettling, resettled)


    Noun:  The transportation of a group of people to a new home.

    sand mandala

    Noun:  A ritualistic geometric design made out of colored sand, symbolic of the Universe, used as an aid to meditation by Buddhists. 

    Listen to this word: 


    Noun:  A person or organization that is responsible for another person or organization, especially legally or financially.

    Verb:  To take responsibilty for or vouch for another person.  (sponsors, sponsoring, sponsored)


    Adjective:  Of or pertaining to Vietnam.

    Noun:  1. Inhabitant of Vietnam or person of Vietnamese descent.  2. Language spoken predominantly in Vietnam.


    Noun:  One who enters into, or offers for, any service of his/her own free will, especially when done without pay.

    Verb:  To enlist oneself as a volunteer; to do or offer to do something voluntarily.  (volunteers, volunteering, volunteered)


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 152