Keeping a Culture Alive

Just two weeks before the pandemic hit, I was photographing the Tibetan New Year festival in NE Portland.

I met Tsering Choephel through The Immigrant Story, a volunteer organization telling the stories of American immigrants. They were writing about her amazing life: she fled Tibet on foot, walking the mountain passes into Nepal just as the Chinese army was taking over her village.

After growing up in the mountains of Nepal, she emigrated to the US in 1976, and has built a life and family here. In Texas she promoted Tibetan culture via a food cart serving her special hot sauce and dumplings. She went back to school in her fifties to get a degree in Childhood Education. Today she continues to promote Tibetan culture through her work at Portland’s Tibetan Cultural Center, caring for her community of Tibetans living in exile.

She’s also coordinated three visits to Portland by the Dalai Lama.

“We never thought we would be in exile for so long. It has been 61 years,” says Choephel. “But we have survived as Tibetans and our language and culture are very precious to keep alive.”

“This is my duty. If I keep our culture alive, then my grandchildren will know what they need to know. If we keep our beliefs and customs, we will prevail in the end and be able to return to live in our traditional way again.”

The above image is included in the current exhibit Our Diversity is Our Strength, on display at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland.