Dalai Lama’s Birmingham visit drawing Tibetans from New York, Minnesota, and Atlanta

[al.com] BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, Oct 21: About 250 Tibetans living now in the U.S. are headed to Birmingham for the visit by the 14th Dalai Lama, bringing a festive and heart-felt flair to the events Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 25-26.

Dancers will perform a Snow Lion Dance in full costume, as well as the Gyalshey Dance, which heralded the installation of the 5th Dalai Lama nearly 400 years ago.

Lama Tenzin Deshek, spiritual guide and resident teacher at Losel Maitri Buddhist Center in Birmingham, said he has been in constant contact with the Tibetans. Among their number, he and others said, will be about 100 from New York City, 100 from Minnesota, 30 from Atlanta, seven from Wisconsin and one from Virginia.

As the lone Tibetan native who makes his home in Alabama, Deshek will have a rare chance to speak with people who understand his mother tongue. Raised in a family of sheep herders near Mount Kailash in Tibet, Deshek was ordained by the Dalai Lama and maintains close ties to him and to Tibetans all over the world.

“All those Tibetan people are coming to Birmingham to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama because he is our religious leader and a man of peace,” Deshek said. “Every Tibetan would want to see him and try to get a blessing from him.”

Nearly 100,000 Tibetans fled their mountainous homeland following the Chinese invasions in 1949-50, according to the Office of Tibet in Washington D.C., and as many as 1.2 million Tibetans died as a result of China’s policies. Many more were imprisoned, and more than 6,000 monasteries, temples and other places of historic significance were destroyed.

The Tibetan exile community has spread throughout the world. Tibetan immigration to the U.S. began in the 1950s and 1960s, and gained new momentum in the early 1990s as part of the U.S. Tibetan Resettlement Project.

These new arrivals brought with them their art, culture and religion, and their veneration for the Dalai Lama.

In 2008, the Office of Tibet estimated that 9,000 people from the Tibetan diaspora lived in the U.S., but that number is likely much higher today.

Many Tibetan families have put down U.S. roots in Minneapolis, Minn.

“We have about 100 people coming to Birmingham. We are chartering two buses,” said Nawang Chemi, vice president of the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, and a longtime friend of Deshek.

Explained Namgyal Dorjee, president of TAFM: “We have close to 3,000 Tibetans here in Minnesota. We have three generations of Tibetans living here.”

The road trip from Minnesota to Alabama will take 17 or 18 hours. “We will be in Birmingham wearing traditional Tibetan dress, so we will be easy to spot,” Dorjee said.

Deshek, meanwhile, who usually must travel great distances to see the Dalai Lama, can merely make a trip to Regions Field.

“There have never been that many Tibetans in Birmingham,” Deshek said. “It is a great celebration.”



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