Explaining their nationality puts Richmond residents Tenzin Youdon and Tenzin Wangchuk in an awkward position. Their ethnicity isn't in doubt: Both are proud Tibetans, descendants of refugees who fled the vise grip of the Chinese government half a century ago. Currently residents of the U.S., they were raised in India, and have never seen the land with which they most strongly identify. Like other Tibetan exiles, they would have to acknowledge their homeland is part of China to be granted re-entry — not a pleasant option.
The pair were among hundreds of demonstrators who took to the streets today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, which ended with the flight of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. At this time last year, Tibetans and ethnic Han Chinese in Tibet clashed violently, making international headlines, despite the fact that few journalists were allowed into Tibet by the Chinese government to cover the conflict. “Tibetans are still suffering,” Wangchuk said.
Demonstrators marched from Civic Center to the Chinese consulate, waving Tibetan flags. Speeches were planned for a rally Tuesday night in Union Square. Tenzin Choegyal explained the importance of the protests this way: “Our brothers and sisters back in Tibet… they have no right to protest. They cannot even speak about Tibet.” (Neither you nor your correspondent are going crazy: Tenzin is, in fact, an extraordinarily common name among Tibetans, in honor of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.)
No protests? China's ruling elites would have one hell of a headache governing San Francisco. Then again, maybe authoritarian capitalism is just what the city's budget crisis needs … but we doubt those waving flags on San Francisco's streets today would agree.