#TibetansAgainstTrump: A Call To Stand Against Bigotry And Xenophobia
I was recently alerted to a Facebook post in which a photo of two allegedly Tibetan men in uniform are holding up a sign which reads, “Tibetans For Trump Kick China in The Balls For US, Donald #MakeAmericaGreatAgain.”
As a young Tibetan American who is highly politically engaged and following my country’s presidential race closely, I was initially shocked by the photo, as I personally have never met a fellow Tibetan who supports the GOP frontrunner. Young Tibetans in particular tend to lean liberal in their political views (with older Tibetans, admittedly tending to be more conservative). Tibetans as a voting bloc, however, haven’t been well-analyzed due to the fact that Tibetans are not counted in the U.S. Census as a distinct ethnic/racial group (this has to do with the lack of recognition of Tibet as a sovereign nation by the U.S.). That said, however, Tibetans have been active in U.S. politics since our mass migration to this country under the 1990 Immigration Act.
With an ongoing political crisis in the Tibetan homeland and a significant Tibetan human rights lobby in the U.S., trade and foreign policy have always been a point of contention for Tibetan immigrants. The normalization of trade relations with China and the effective de-linking of human rights and trade with the renewal of Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status in 2000 under the Clinton administration was a significant blow to the human rights lobby and Tibetan Americans who seek to hold China accountable for continued rights violations in Tibet. That’s why, when then-President Bush awarded Tibet’s Nobel Prize-winning spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, Tibetan Americans considered the act a significant victory, evident by the marking of this event every year across the diaspora in gratitude to the Bush administration.
Young, politically engaged Tibetan Americans, however, still overwhelmingly favor liberal values and policies. This election year, I have seen Tibetan community leaders and figures endorse and support either or both of the democratic presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton, on a recent visit to Minnesota, was confronted about the latest Tibetan self-immolation last month, which renewed Tibetan and Tibet activists’ interest in her candidacy. Many Tibetans have, notably, shown immense enthusiasm for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Many have noted his key role in the release of Tibetan political prisoners during his time in the U.S. Senate. His website also reaffirms his commitment to Tibet’s political question, and his campaign has even sparked a “Tibetans for Bernie” offshoot.
That said, many Tibetans have repudiated Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant/Muslim sentiments on the campaign trail. With an election season marked by increasingly violent rhetoric against racial/ethnic minorities in this country due to Trump’s insurgency in the polls, many Tibetans have veered towards either of the democratic candidates for their comparatively more sensible and tolerant policies. In one infamous GOP debate moment, Donald Trump even went so far as to praise China’s authoritarian regime for their treatment of the historic Tiananmen Square protests, referring to it as a ‘riot.’ Tibetan Americans, having come to this country as political refugees with a long history of resistance, are also actively engaged in their communities and have been strong supporters of other social justice movements, including feminism, racial justice, and immigration reform, among others.
The assumption that Tibetans are subject to some kind of karmic ‘law of unintended consequences’, where mere criticism of trade with China will automatically draw us to the most bigoted, xenophobic candidate, thus, dangerously caricaturizes Tibetan people. To the contrary, Tibetans, and Tibetan Americans, are not some monolithic group with uniform political views that cater only to the basest impulses in the political culture and environment. Our individual views are as complex and multi-faceted as any other group’s, but our collective voice is certainly not one that will lend support to Donald Trump’s demagoguery.