The Struggle : I make no apologies for my Tib-lish
I see you, I do.
so clear it hurts to hear you
they come at me
like bullets, they pass me
thru this skin, this flesh.
they make my mind rot,
I fight to speak as you do
i beg of it
to do what its supposed to.
mother tongue, i invoke you
come rescue this journey,
broken words to convey,
travel, to her ears
so she can hear home
so she knows, she’s not alone
to face reality,
this exile language
reminds her of what’s gone.
And yet it isn’t.
I am still here,
we are here.
I see you, I do
I know no
other greater love
my first words
called out to you.
I’ve been told so many times throughout my life that I need to learn my language. I get it from elders, rude/privileged old white ladies (dont even get my started) and Tibetan peers who didn’t grow up in the west, who think it’s funny to ridicule my attempts at speaking my language. So many times, my “Tibetan-ness” is questioned because the English words I speak were fluent and my mother tongue broken. I speak in the wrong tenses, misuse honorific words and (apparently) have an accent.
Growing up in the west, largely away from the Tibetan community, my language(s) suffered, Tibetan being the most important. I know that. Being told this doesn’t make it even more real to me, I live it, so I know. I struggle every day trying to communicate with not just my community but my parents. I know that when I fluently speak English I am distanced, maybe because it makes me seem pretentious, too inji, not bhoe-pa enough, and this I feel.
It’s paining, it feels like drowning at times, trying to gasp for air but all too often being submerged in the struggle. It’s strange, cause it feels like you’re fighting. To speak, to fight off others ridicule, to fight off self-shame, to fight on and prove everyone wrong. I think now, I don’t want to fight any more, I don’t care what people have to say about me not being “bhoepa” enough, I know I am and no one can say differently. My language is something I hold dearly, something I am actively trying to reclaim, cultivate and sustain. But on my terms and at my own pace. I have to be kinder to my self and, even to those who’ve made it difficult for me, in realizing that this is all the repercussions of the invasion, displacement and immigrant experience that I’ve endured/enduring.
There is no such thing as “a” Tibetan story, and in light of the now, large diasporas spread all over the world, more and more we are comprised of many different stories. Simultaneously, things are changing back home. Yes its sad, but we must except that change will come and not all change is bad.
I know my parents struggled with raising their children outside of a Tibetan context, and I for sure know we yearn for a home where we can be with our people and families but that’s just not how it worked out for us due to our history. I can see why they press me so hard to speak better. I know they are grasping for something in me, it’s a legacy, a sense of being bhoepa, a sense of them, I get it. I am forever imprinted by them, they have instilled in me a huge part of my identity and this, no one can take from me, not the occupation, displacement, a passport or haters. After many years of of being shamed and then subsequently self-shaming, I can start to forgive myself of things that were out of my hands and to those who were, sometimes, well intentioned but did not know of my struggles to belong.
Once people realize that shaming others is not the appropriate method to encourage people like me to learn, I hope they find better ways of supporting their community members. Hopefully, in a way that give themselves some time to reflect on some things they need to work on, as I’m sure their fight for Tibetan purity comes from some internal insecurity.
Anyway, I wrote this poem in a moment where I was really struggling to communicate with a loved one. Wishing she could see that I struggle every time she misunderstands me, or feels like I use my English to distance myself from her, from home, from being Tibetan. It was a moment when I yearned to call on some supernatural power to fix my tongue, when I struggled to show them that my heart aches to give her what she wants but also that she must see that things are changing, have changed. It was a moment when I know we were both hurting and acknowledging that.
Wow. Thank you …..
Very powerful poem and well expressed sentiments. Truly touched! You leave us much to think about re: the changes our community is facing in exile and in Tibet.
Thank you for this ‘ArDee’, I was deeply moved!
I almost wept as i read your poem. You don’t ever have to give one cent to these people’s ridicule. Most of the time, they are bit like some Tibetan Taleban. I am among a group who is suppose to speak Tibetan well. In the midst of it, without a kind heart, no Tibetan is beautiful or useful with their either florid or magniloquent Tibetan. It’s cringing every time they put out a bigoted comment. Have fun with your Tibetan, however it comes out. Don’t ever ever be affected by anyone’s comment. That very collective habit kept us behind. With every mistake you make, laugh it away. Have no qualms. Keep breezing forward
Thank you for echoing the voices of countless exiled bhoepas who struggle with the reality of their multicultural lives. This struck a chord so deep I continue to think about it days after reading. Bravo
I am from a different Diaspora and I can fee the echo
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As I read your poem/ your struggle, I can’t help but feel how you have voiced the struggles of not just bhoepas, but of every person. comm
language in as much as it can be liberating, it is also encasing much violence. your words have made it more palpable to us how the distance between you and your loved one is a beautiful and painful analogy for the separation of so many Tibetans from their motherland.
I pray that you are able to find some healing soon from the power of the emotions that that are so delicately arranged on your tongue- Tibetan or English… whichever ‘you’ choose.
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I know this is a super old post, but as a Tibetan teenager growing up in America, this really strikes a chord with me. Thank you for writing this, and letting me know that I am not alone.