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 a part of the blur of a rippling red, blue, yellow and white; all of them were colors on the Tibetan flag. Such 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 towards Times Square. The mass of 1000 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 voice and begin the Gyallu, meaning national anthem in my mother tongue. My entire body was tingling and my fingertips were grasping firmly on the base of the flag like it was a bar of gold. This ensemble of voices during the anthem 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. Suddenly, my lips felt dry all of a sudden 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 itself with the words and my pronunciation became clearer. The muddy waters I used to tread in, became a clear pond of knowledge.

It took months until 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 and I felt as if the only thing moving was the light rays 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 with my mouth, joining the booming voices surrounding me. We finished the anthem and took our seat on the open field outside the temple. I sat there with a goofy smile on my face. I know I made mistakes, and I know I mispronounced some things, but I was proud. I was proud of being there and reciting the words of history and struggle/triumph with my own mouth.

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, I wasn’t born in Tibet, I wasn't 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 the 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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