The Tibetan flag flew high in Berkeley on Saturday, as approximately 200 people gathered to commemorate the 59th anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
The Tibetan Association of Northern California organized a flag-raising ceremony of the Tibetan flag followed by speeches from Tibetan activists and local officials, according to Stefan Elgstrand, assistant to Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
Tibetan Uprising Day is observed annually on March 10 to commemorate the ongoing uprising of Tibetans against the Chinese government since 1959, according to Tibetan language lecturer Jann Ronis. Each Tibetan Uprising Day reiterates the demand for freedom of religion and meaningful autonomy over the economy, education and development of Tibet, Ronis said.
“One significant part of the overall feeling on March 10 is one of sadness that the Tibetans are still in exile,” Ronis said. “Originally the holiday was supposed to be part of the ongoing struggle, but now with the Dalai Lama over 80 years old and 1959 almost 60 years ago, it’s unfortunately kind of a reminder that things didn’t work out the way they wanted.”
The city has been celebrating this event for more than 20 years, according to councilmember Kriss Worthington. He added that every year, he has proposed this event to City Council for approval.
“This year continues the dedication of the Tibetan community around the world to remind about the ongoing plight of Tibet so that the just cause of Tibet is not forgotten,” Worthington’s proposal states.
Local officials who spoke included the El Cerrito Mayor Gabriel Quinto, Rent Stabilization Board commissioner James Chang, candidate for California lieutenant governor Gayle McLaughlin, Arreguín and Worthington.
Northern California is home to one of the largest populations of Tibetans in exile outside of India, Bhutan and Nepal, according to Elgstrand. Many Bay Area citizens strongly support the cause of the Tibetan people, Worthington added.
“We’ve heard from the Tibetan community that they deeply treasure the fact that there is support for their human rights,” Worthington said. “We aren’t doing this for the hell of it; we’re doing it (to) raise the question about where the political persecution and religious repression are going to stop.”
In spite of the abuses against Tibetans, Ronis said it is important to also consider all that Tibetans have accomplished.
Ronis added that the Tibetan refugees have been extremely successful in organizing themselves and finding international support and funding for their independence.
“Tibetans have done a tremendous amount to sustain the culture, to sustain the religion and to sustain the language,” Ronis said. “It’s important to have the March 10 holiday and make a public airing of all the bad things, but that can sometimes lead people to believe that things are all bad. There needs to be a time where we step back and take stock of the successes that Tibetans have been able to accomplish.”