Growing up as a first generation immigrant in Canada the concept of home was a foreign one to me – I could not make sense of whether I belonged in the country that gave birth to my native culture, language and family or the one that now housed me and provided endless opportunities. With each year that passed I experienced a greater dissonance in relating to either culture. It wasn’t until I learned of John Berry’s acculturation model that I finally felt content with my cultural identity.
During my time in Dharamsala I began to wonder if the Tibetan refugees experienced the same inner conflicts in identifying between their Tibetan culture and their now-Indian homes. That was when we posed the question to the students: What is the difference between a house and a home. Their answers unanimously and succinctly differentiated between a house and a home: “Physically I am in India. But, my heart is in Tibet. This is a house. In Tibet we have our homes. Here in India we don’t have homes, only houses. Sometimes India reminds me of a home…but it’s not”. I could see my own struggle within these students, I immediately identified with their yearning for a home. What then delineates a home? And how come they felt so astray in a land adjacent to their own?
As the conversation progressed a vibrant and powerful nationalism permeated their answers. They stated that a home not only houses families but also memories – and their memories are in Tibet. The importance of planting roots and creating memories was a primary pillar in differentiating between a house and a home. Despite cultural genocide, Chinese influence & occupation and an ever present fear of spies Tibetan refugees still consider Tibet their home. Historically, Tibet was a nomadic society and much of the population continues to abide by the nomadic lifestyle even today and I wondered if this would impact their identity or concept of self. Yet, even the nomads passionately exclaimed that Tibet was and continues to be their home. I was enthralled at how firmly planted their perception of home was – even Indian-born Tibetans refer to Tibet as their home despite never having been there.
What then leads to the formation of a home, to the longing and yearning for a specific district, region or vicinity? I wondered why the Tibetans didn’t feel at home in India – and the unfortunate reality is that racial tension and discrimination pervade Indian-Tibetan relations on both subtle and deliberate levels. Stories of being ignored and relegated in society saturated the conversation: one student spoke of how police targeted him on the street, demanded his refugee status card, tore it into pieces and then fined him for not having proper identification. Another spoke of how Tibetan establishments have a way of being vandalized and even set ablaze. While these overt demonstrations of discrimination are less common, more clandestine discrimination manifests itself in everyday Tibetan-Indian relations.
By emphasizing the similarities between cultures and taking a stand against racism, both covert and blatant, we can encourage more harmonious, amicable and cordial relationships between cultures resulting in Tibetans no longer feeling like strangers in the country that houses them until they can return home to a free Tibet.