Tibetan Americans look to US elections through Tibet

New York: Health care, taxes, government spending, financial regulation and unemployment issues may have dominated the political debate in the US presidential elections that saw Obama win for a second term. But for many Tibetan Americans there is a bigger and more agonizing issue of their own that far surpassed the issues facing the US voters.

Members of Tibetan community take part in prayer service for victims of self-immolations on Thursday, November 8, 2012, in Jackson Height, Queens. Rights groups say as many as six Tibetans, including three teenage monks, in Tibet set themselves on fire this week to protest against Chinese rule over their homeland.

Struggle for freedom, intensified by wave of ongoing self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet, voicing dissatisfaction against decades old Chinese rule, have shaped the way Tibetans in the US took part in the US elections this week.

Phurbu Dorjee, a resident of Jackson Heights, voted for the second time. Unlike in 2008, when he voted for Obama hoping for a “more positive change,” Dorjee said he voted for Mitt Romney this time.

“I expected Obama to be more vocal about human rights violations around the world. Despite series of self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet, I am disappointed that Obama has not taken a stand yet,” said Dorjee. “I think in terms of religious freedom, Romney is more likely to take a stronger position on Tibet with China.”

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, six Tibetans have set themselves on fire, of them three teenage monks, in the last two days. According to the official website of Tibet’s government in exile based in north India, since August 2009 there have been 69 cases of self-immolations by dousing themselves on fire; with 54 confirmed dead, while others sustaining life threatening burns.

For Tibetans, the US is still a major player in the world and its President a potential leader on these issues.

Dorjee Tsering, an independent Tibetan filmmaker, insists economically stronger US is more likely to take a bolder stand with China.

“My view is that US is going through an economic mess. To take on a powerful country like China, it is logical that US needs to be economically more stable,” Tsering said. “Obama is trying to do that, and I voted for him.”

Tsering became a US citizen just few months ago – just in time to take part in Tuesday’s elections. Although excited about his newly acquired status in the US that allows him to freely cast his vote, Tsering said Tibet remains very much his real homeland.

“I still feel a temporary citizen or what they call the second class citizen. If only Tibetans are as strong as the Spanish speaking population in this country, we can make our voices heard more effectively through the elections,” Tsering said.

Like many Tibetans, 21-year-old Tsering Dolma, a student of elementary education at Queens College, is saddened by the series of self-immolations. Tsering was only 11 years old when she came to the US in 2002. She became a US citizen two years ago and could have voted for the first time in this year’s presidential election. But Dolma decided not to vote.

“I couldn’t decide who is a better candidate for Tibet and I didn’t vote,” she said.

Tsering has committed herself to spare her free time to Tibet-related activities. She has been working as a “Head Volunteer” for the New York-based regional chapter of the Tibetan Youth Congress, a group that advocates complete independence for Tibet, to help organize and coordinate protest demonstrations for Tibet.

“In fact Tibet kept me over occupied in the last few months that I didn’t get time to think and follow the elections,” Tsering said, adding, “I have no regret for not voting this time.”

The group on Thursday organized a prayer service in Jackson Heights to pray for the latest victims of self-immolations. On Friday the group again organized a protest demonstration in front of the UN to seek a meaningful intervention in Tibet.

The group’s president Cheden L. Adetsang said the two events are part of a series of events to highlight the “worsening situation” in Tibet.

“For us Tibet issue is a top priority, and we call on US and UN time and again to use their influence to help find a solution to Tibet in the long run. But as a organization, we have no specific preference between Democrats and Republicans,” Adetsang said.

Adetsang said it is now time for him and the organization to closely watch the outcome of the China’s Party Congress.

Close on the heels of the US elections, China’s Party Congress on Thursday began a rare session to oversee a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

At the end of the session, 59 year-old Xi Jinping, the man widely tipped to lead China for the next 10 years, is expected to replace the incumbent president Hu Jintao.