Fieldwork Within the Local Tibetan Community

Fieldwork Within the Local Tibetan Community

Tibetans have been living in Philadelphia since the 1980s, but their families, and thousands before them, had been uprooted decades earlier as a result of the Chinese military’s occupation of Tibet that had started way back in 1949, and China’s subsequent repression of Tibetan cultural and political life. Today, Tibetans in our area number around 150. They have arrived in different decades, from different spots on the map. Some were born in Tibet; most were born in exile in India or Nepal, or here in the U.S. Those who came here as adults had been school teachers, government officials, chefs, farmers, soldiers, artists, monks, homemakers, university professors. They or their parents or grandparents came from all three provinces of Tibet, with distinct dialects and traditions. Heterogeneous in so many ways, in Philadelphia, it is the reverence for the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, and devotion to the cause of freedom for their homeland, that unites them. Every Tibetan here follows the pronouncements of the Tibetan government in exile, based in Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama’s home. Every Tibetan here is a member of the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia.
 
The Philadelphia Folklore Project has been engaged in fieldwork in the local Tibetan community -- including ethnographic interviews, documentation of community events and cultural practices, and sharing in celebrations and meetings -- for several years. That process has resulted in the co-curation, with the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia, of an exhibition called Tibetans in Philadelphia up in our gallery through May of 2016.