ANU on Instagram Live
The story appeared on my Instagram feed. I clicked the familiar name Anu Ranglug (also known as ANU). From my basement apartment in Washington DC, I watched, transfixed, ANU’s brilliant Tibetan and Chinese language performance of OneRepublic’s “Apologize.” Suddenly, the tempo slowed and a bell chimed. The triumphant cry of a Tashi Sholpa performer echoed from my phone. The camera cut to the shocked faces of the show’s Chinese judges and audience members. I shouted in surprised joy, and my friend viewing with me asked “Are you gonna cry?”
The moment lasts maybe fifteen seconds in an otherwise skillful but unremarkable ANU performance. But the Tashi Sholpa in “Apologize”, on a show on a network in a language I cannot understand, illustrates something about what it is to be a diaspora Tibetan living in the world today. Moments like these, proud, even joyful, proclamations of Tibetanness in unexpected places, reach a tender place within myself that is always searching.
As a child, I could go for days or weeks without even seeing the word Tibet anywhere outside of my home. No one knew what it meant that I was, in some ambiguous way, “from” “there,” least of all me. As an adult, I have more control over my media consumption. I can and do seek out connection to life inside Tibet, to Tibetan communities, to our shared histories and traditions, to our present(s) and to our futures.
I have found expressions of this to be true across the Tibetans that I meet in nearly every situation, from Reykjavik to Dharamsala to New York City. It is more common than not for us to delve into a debate on politics, culture, speculations or anecdotes about life inside Tibet with any new Tibetan acquaintance. Whatever the opinion, however different from my own, every Tibetan I meet has one.
We carry our opinions with us wherever we go, and they erupt (sometimes horrifically so) whenever we meet. We are obsessed, in some way or another, with the question of home. Perhaps this seems obvious to an outside reader, or even to other Tibetans. But I articulate it because I have grown up without articulations of Tibetan experience, and now the Tashi Sholpa in the ANU video makes me want to cry.
ANU has drawn attention from an ever-growing fan base outside of Tibet and I, like many others, anticipate a future global tour and continued success. As their popularity and renown grows, they will be the subject of further scrutiny from the Chinese government and public, global music industries, and anyone with an interest in Tibet. So right now I claim this moment for us. For Tibetans, for whom the stakes are the highest.
I have learned that in this western paradigm of knowledge ownership and production that if you don’t write it, someone else will. Even as Tibet’s international profile seems to further marginalize, there are still vested interests in telling Tibetan stories, or becoming an authority on them.
The specific catharsis and ache of the Tashi Sholpa moment are mine, and my community’s. I write them because no one but me is the authority. Now I can be cited, and I should. So rarely we are cited in our own stories, at least not the ones that people with power read. More than the assertion of my self into others’ stories, I articulate this experience in hopes that other Tibetans like and not like me can find themselves in this telling. The Tashi Sholpa feels like a moment of being seen, a moment where all the parts match up just right, in a world where we frequently feel invisible, disjointed.
Me and my Tibetan peers find ourselves with endless questions about past, present, and future Tibet. Our attempts to understand ourselves often end up with frustratingly unsatisfactory information, unhelpful and unwanted perspectives on our selves and communities, and still unable to consistently access the resources we most crave: our communities and lands in Tibet themselves.
So we fumble on, typing “Tibet ____” into search bars or scrolling through the hashtag #tibetanwomen in hopes of glimpsing ourselves. The globalized world’s limited perceptions of Tibet are themselves disappointing and harmful, but also impede our access to the information, stories, or perspectives that we desire. We re-iterate ourselves, swapping anecdotes and Youtube links. We get in comment arguments with exotifying westerners.
To be Tibetan is wound and salve. Our love for our people and our futures spurs creativity, energy, persistence, ferocity. It requires facing over and over again the heartbreaking uncertainty of when we will have the relationship with the land that we so deeply yearn for. It requires confronting our privileges as diaspora Tibetans, our many blind spots, our survivor’s guilt, our romanticization of what Tibet is and means.
My friends and I joke about being twenty-somethings obsessed with where we are going to die. The Tashi Sholpa appears and I want to cry, because I am being reflected and seen in a way that to this day is so rare. ANU, like the countless brilliant Tibetans who we might not have met but whose names we know, and all those we haven’t, those living and ancestor, remind me that we can, and will, and do, make those homes for each other.