Tibetans Ring in New Year

Reporter s Notebook

Kesang Yangdon helped ring in Losar, the Tibetan New Year, at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center on Saturday.

The Year of the Fire-Ox was ushered in with a program consisting of guided meditation, offerings and joyous music and dance performances.

Hundreds of enthusiastic people enjoyed the Tibetan festivities while snacking ondesi, a rice dish sweetened by butter, sugar, raisins and dried fruits; and butter tea, a drink made with salt and "a special tea leaf."

"We like everything to be in high spirits because this is the way we're going to spend the rest of the year," Yangdon said.

"We also think of the previous year and think of doing much better," she added.

Yangdon spoke with extreme pride of her Tibetan heritage, although she has never set eyes on her homeland.

"We've heard from our families, our parents; and ofcourse, we have the media to tell us what is happening recently," she said.

Yangdon's parents fled to India after the Chinese government took over Tibet in the 1950's, and she lived in India all her life until this past November.

According to her husband, Lopsang Sangay, approximately 80,000 Tibetans fled the country after the Chinese Communist occupation.

Despite such upheaval, Yangdon described her childhood in relatively idyllic terms, recalling the Catholic missionary school where she learned to speak English and Hindi.

"We had nuns looking after us," she said. "It was quite a strict, disciplined environment, but [it was] very good."

Three months ago, Yangdon moved to America to be reunited with her husband, a human-rights lawyer who received his law degree from Harvard Law School last spring under the Fulbright Scholarship.

He is currently a visiting scholar at the Law School and at the Kennedy School of Government.

Yangdon encouraged all interested students to attend a debate in March between her husband and a Chinese political official.

The two live near Cambridge's Davis Square and actively participate in the 180-member-strong Tibetan Association of Boston (TAB).

Yangdon said that TAB celebrates various Tibetan events throughout the year, including the birth of the Buddha.

These events are designed "to improve and encourage and to let more people know about Tibetan culture and tradition," she said.

TAB also sponsors political activities, although Yangdon said she possesses very little knowledge about them.

"I'm interested in Tibetan-China politics, because it involves our life and our home," she said. "[Even] if not actively, I have it at heart."

However, Yangdon said that Lopsang is a political activist who has felt duty-bound toward the Tibetan people and Tibetan exiles since the age of 14.

"I would also like to help the Tibetan government in exile," she added.

For now, Yangdon is more involved in the organization's cultural activities.

She said that it was important for Tibetan expatriates to preserve their heritage and spoke of a Sunday school in Cambridge where "younger ones...are becoming more conscious of our culture" through learning Tibetan language, dances and songs.

Eventually Kesang and Lopsang hope to return to Tibet.

"We want to go to Tibet sometime soon, but it's difficult to enter," she said.

"It's our home," she added, plaintively.