Preservation of your language is a political statement you are making.: Becoming Minnesotan

Wangyal T. Ritzekura, c.2005.
  • Name - Wangyal Ritzekura
  • Age at interview - 52
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 08.19.2005
  • Tibetan Culture School summer session, July 31, 2003.
    Students practice singing, Tibetan Culture School summer session, July 31, 2003.

    We Are Here

    Education, Language, Tibetan

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    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 fled to the neighboring countries to the south: India and Nepal.  Some eventually were granted immigrant visas to come to the U.S.

    Because Tibetans children are now living and attending school in so many places throughout the world, they are struggling to maintain their language and culture.  Tibetans  may never be able to return to their homeland, so they want to preserve as much of their culture as they can while living in a foreign place.  It is important to Tibetans that they instill this sense of Tibetan identity at a young age, so that children see themselves as Tibetans first and Americans second. 

    Tibetans have come to the U.S. with the intention of becoming active citizens in American society.  However, they also have another purpose which is to try to establish Tibetan communities where they can continue to practice their Tibetan traditions so that someday they might be able to go back to their homeland.  

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Wangyal Ritzekura 7
    3:46 Minutes | 3.63Mb


    Narrator: Wangyal Ritzekura (WR)

    Interviewer: Tenzin Khando (TK)

    TK:  Well, since you’ve been in that position for so long where you’ve been working with the Tibetan community and the Minneapolis school board, do you feel like there were particular challenges that were faced by the Tibetan students in this new environment which you said is so different from the Indian school structural basis?

    WR:  The transition from the school system in India to the United States is no longer a problem here now. Now here the problem is that those children who are born here might grow up to be Tibetans with very...might grow up to be Tibetans who are not very strong in their own language. Now in kindergarten and first grade, I don’t know whether you have seen that or not. I have seen many Tibetan children who are not speaking very good Tibetan. They speak English much better than Tibetan. And now that is the cause of concern.

    Last year I was...I came on board and I became the education chair and I have made major changes to our Saturday Tibetan program and I am trying to focus on those students who are age five, six, seven, eight because this is a very difficult, very tender age and looking back in the past nine, ten months and I think we are doing a wonderful job.

    But that is the new challenge that we are facing and I feel that Head Start, you know, that every child goes through, Head Start is something that Tibetan parents need to postpone because Head Start is a very tender stage in a child’s life and when you are exposed to English word and languages more than your own language that might...that might shift the balance. That might play a negative role in terms of these children growing up with their own language. That I see as a major challenge.

    TK:  So since the challenge has changed now from having a lack of assimilation into American culture now it’s like too much assimilation into the American culture?

    WR:  Right.

    TK:  So it seems essentially that you are trying find a balance between the two. What are ways or what are ways in which you can kind of prevent that from happening? What are ways in which you can help the children?

    WR:  The most important thing is that Tibetan parents should admit their young children in the Tibetan Culture School. That’s very important.

    So my answer to your question is that if these children are very important for our future tomorrow they must grow up with their language and with their cultural values. Otherwise, what happens is that they might really get distracted. They might grow up to be Tibetans with not that strong Tibetan feeling.

    That can be a big problem because we are a people who came to the United States with a different goal, with a different purpose and for that we have to make sure that these children who grow up really grow up as a real Tibetan, with that Tibetan feeling. And language is very, very important. Preservation of your language is a political statement you are making. 

    Related Glossary Terms


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


    Noun:  An underlying condition or circumstance.


    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:  1. The source or reason of an event or action.  2. A goal, aim or principle, especially one which transcends purely selfish ends.


    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.


    Adjective:  Having one's attention diverted; preoccupied.


    Noun:  A particular political or social setting, arena or condition.


    Verb:  To introduce to; to become familiar with.  (exposes, exposing, exposed)

    Head Start

    Noun:  A program that gives comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.


    Adverb:  Concerning or related to politics, the art and process of governing.


    Verb:  To delay; to wait.  (postpones, postponing, postponed)


    Noun:  The care to preserve; the act of keeping from destruction, decay or any ill.


    Adjective:  Sensitive; sweet; gentle; young.


    Noun:  A process of change from one form to another.


    Noun:  A collection of guiding, usually positive principles; what one deems to be correct and desirable in life, especially regarding personal conduct.


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