Protest | Teen Ink

Protest MAG

January 13, 2019
By Anonymous

“Why are we at a protest, Pala?”


“Because you should understand the struggles of a refugee,” my father replied.


I was drowned in a sea of bodies and became part of the blur, a rippling red, blue, yellow and white – the colors on the Tibetan flag. Raw emotion was displayed on the faces of my fellow Tibetan brothers and sisters as they engulfed the streets of lower Manhattan, like a flood, and headed toward Times Square. The mass of 1,000 people halted at a nearby park. The birds chirped, the cars honked, the pedestrians kept walking. It was a normal day in New York; but then the mass began to harmonize their voices and begin the Gyallu, the national anthem of Tibet. We sang it in my mother tongue. My entire body was tingling and I grasped firmly to the base of the flag like it was a bar of gold. This ensemble of voices was supposed to be encouraging, strengthening, and hopeful – yet it left me in a state of incapacity and guilt. I quickly darted my eyes around and tried to mimic the movements of other people’s mouths. My lips felt dry and my tongue was no longer a tongue, but a slab of cement lying in my mouth. It was a cold afternoon, but I began to sweat in embarrassment.


As a part of a dying race of the Himalayan people, I was ashamed that I could not repeat my own anthem. I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge, especially since I was the son of a very patriotic father. As soon as I got home, I was ready and determined to make a change. I printed out a copy of the national anthem and held the warm piece of paper in my hands. This sheet was more than words; it held emotion and meaning to millions of people, and now it was a source of strength to me. That following week, I studied the anthem and analyzed every sentence carefully. My lips began to familiarize themselves with the words and my pronunciation became clearer. The muddy waters in which I used to tread became a clear pond of knowledge.


It took months before I would be able to use my newfound knowledge. I was outside of a Buddhist temple with my local Tibetan community in Jackson Heights. The blazing saffron orange reflected off the temple walls and beamed onto the prayer flags. There was a hushed moment of silence. The air stood still; it seemed like the only things moving were rays of light coming down from the afternoon sun. Then a large drum was hit and the Gyallu started. I raised my chest and started to build the syllables in my mouth, joining the booming voices surrounding me. We finished the anthem and took a seat on the open field outside the temple. I sat there with a goofy smile on my face. I know I mispronounced some words, but I was proud. I was proud of using my voice to honor Tibet’s history, struggle, and triumph.


I began to feel like I was finally a member of my community. I always wondered how I could label myself as Tibetan. I looked like every other Asian, I didn’t know my language well, and I wasn’t born and raised in Tibet. My identity was scattered, as most are, in this melting pot of today’s society. But now I had a piece of history within me, a piece of identity, the voices of seven million people, and the story of a whole nation in my mind and in my heart. Now, every time I hear my anthem, I can stand up proudly and not try to hide in the shadows of my peers. I am proud to be Tibetan and I am proud to know my Gyallu. 

The author's comments:

This is what it means to be myself in a world of lost identity. 

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