Course:ANTH309/2024/Himalayan Diaspora

From UBC Wiki


Estimated number of people of Nepali origin in North America: 250,000 by 2022[1]

The Himalayan communities in North America are very diverse, encapsulating various ethnicities and cultures. The diaspora adds to the cultural mosaic in North America by displaying their unique heritage. While the diaspora contributes to North America in various ways, many of the individuals also support and connect to their respective homelands. This Wiki entry encompasses multifaceted perspectives, aiming to fully explore this diaspora's experiences, challenges, and opportunities within the North American continent. Being one of the most impactful cities in the world, New York borders the vibrant dynamics of the Himalayan diaspora and can serve as an epitome of the Himalayan diaspora in North America. Thus, the following pages will shed light on the economic, societal, artistic, historical, and health aspects of the Himalayan diaspora's experiences in New York and elucidate the way that the Himalayan diaspora in New York fosters their belonging to their home countries. Furthermore, the study of the Himalayan diaspora in North America will be completed with a focus on the Nepalese diaspora in Texas, the culture and history of the Tibetan-Canadian community in Toronto, the Bhutanese refugees in Canada, and the integration of Tibetan communities in the United States.

New York City District[2]

The dominant paradigm in the examination of mobility and diaspora frequently centers on the physical displacement of individuals and communities across geographical areas. Nevertheless, this perspective neglects the intricate nuances of movement that surpass mere physical relocation. Such movement can alternatively be comprehended as an interplay of social, cultural, and spatial relations. To explore this interplay, the following sections will focus on the societal and spatial relationships between the Himalayan diaspora and North America, centering on the Himalayan diaspora's ways of building communities and the role of communities in preserving and transmitting culture, including aspects like languages, beliefs, and even cuisine. One remarkable example of a community preserving history and cultural influence is the Rubin Museum of Arts in New York. It showcases a collection of over 1000 Himalayan art pieces spanning 1500 years. Through communities, the diaspora in New York also fosters a sense of belonging, maintaining cultural heritage and transnational connections in this unconstrained environment. The section covering the culture and history of the Tibetan community in Toronto will highlight the importance of traditional food and cultural spaces for Tibetan immigrants, and it will also touch on the threat that gentrification can have on a diasporic community. To better understand the diaspora's migration experiences, the following sections will also illuminate the various reasons behind individuals' migrations, focusing on their unique economic experiences and their health and cultural practices. Furthermore, the following section will also encompass the refugees's experiences and their way of building resilience in the United States and Canada. Under the influence of the 2015 earthquake, the Nepalese Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders have emerged as a significant community in Texas, US. Despite their contributions to the state's economy and society, Nepalese TPS holders are still facing challenges in their lives, especially the uncertainty of their protected status due to the political climate and changing policies, highlighting the complex dynamics of the Himalayan diaspora in contemporary America.

Integration of Tibetan Communities in the US

Tibetan Americans have contributed to the melting pot of growing communities that desire cultural preservation and acculturation. The diversity of ways Tibetans in exile have been able to preserve their rich culture, stay connected to one another, and contribute to the social fabric in the United States.

Integration into American Society

The core of cultural preservation primarily lies within a community’s opportunity to engage and practice one’s beliefs, culture and languages. This can be difficult for smaller groups, such as the diaspora of Tibetans in the United States, to feel connected to each other and their communities. Larger organizations, often even in other countries, can help with resources, education, and even funding to help with the important task of cultural and language preservation.

The Office of Tibet in Washington, DC, serves as a conduit for Tibetan organizations in the United States and Canada. Its mission is not only to organize the activities and visits of the Dalai Lama but also to promote his holiness's three principal commitments in the United States: Promotion of human values (compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline); Promotion of religious harmony; and Preservation of Tibetan culture and religion.[3]The Office provides a pivotal role and a landing page for those looking for support or educational opportunities. For instance, each year the Office organizes an empowerment and capacity building and leadership workshop for Tibetan youths in North America.[3]The Office also provides contacts for support groups and Tibetan Associations, and a source for Tibetan news that may not be covered on American news.[3]

Cultural and Language Preservation Efforts

Educational projects like the Tibetan School Program in Utah help families to connect with their culture and preserve their language.[4] Programs like these are “ designed to serve the Tibetan community and preserve its rich cultural heritage, language, and traditions. Its primary purpose is to provide a nurturing and inclusive environment where Tibetan children and youth can learn about their heritage, history, language, and values, ensuring the continuity of Tibetan culture and identity in diaspora communities around the world.”[4]

Programs are developed specifically for children from Tibetan backgrounds, and the curriculum includes the Tibetan language, history, and cultural studies (including music and dance) as part of their course.

These opportunities and projects ensure that Tibetans born in the USA are given the opportunity to experience and learn their heritage.

Reflecting on the importance of such educational endeavours, Shakya (1994)  states, "Western universities have developed courses in Tibetan language and culture,”[5] reflecting a deep commitment to preserving this unique cultural heritage. This approach helps ensure that the rich traditions of Tibet are maintained even in the diaspora, promoting a strong cultural identity among young Tibetans in the U.S.

Sense of Community

Throughout the United States community centers and religious institutions offer language courses, religious services, and even cultural workshops. Monasteries and temples, traditionally used for worship also provide a familiar gathering space for Tibetans celebrating festivals and events other than religious worship. They provide a safe meeting ground for older generations, and a space to educate younger generations.

The Phuntsok Deshe Tibetan Community Hall is a fairly new multi-purpose facility for Tibetan community members in New York and New Jersey. It is used as a Tibetan language school, and a gathering space for cultural education and workshops, “it also serves as a sanctuary where all individuals can unite as one and learn from one another.”[6]

Safe environments, like Phuntsok Deshe Tibetan Community Hall, allow for the transfer of Tibetan traditions, religious practices and language, and provide a meeting ground for the older generations.[6]

Showcasing Culture and Diversity

As important as it is to keep language and heritage intact, it is important for the Tibetan community to share their culture, foods and language with those around them. Festivals and community events are an important means of sharing,  educating and showcasing their culture and music.

In May of this year, Tibetans in New York will celebrate their 8th Ngatso Fest. An indoor event that will showcase the food, culture, music and dancing of Tibet and the Himalayas. It not only gives local Tibetans an opportunity to practice and showcase their traditions, but an opportunity for others to enjoy and understand their culture.[7]

The Tibet Festival, scheduled to take place this August in Seattle, Washington is another important event that will showcase traditional and contemporary Tibetan art, music, dance, art.[7]

These festivals, though few and not large, not only give the participants the opportunity to showcase their traditional forms of dance, music, and art, but will also give community members another layer to the multi-cultural tapestry of the United States.

Dual Commitment to Identity and Multiculturalism

[8] Tibetan Elderly Woman Enduring Faith

The Tibetans' approach to integrating into the U.S. is midway between keeping their identity and supporting the multiculturalism of the new country. This sense of dual commitment enriches the respect and understanding of the communities—Tibetan and American. McGranahan (2018) captures this tension, stating, "For people who have been collectively dispossessed, what does it mean to refuse inter-national norms of citizenship by insisting on a sovereignty that has been lost?"[9] This reflects the complex dynamics of identity that Tibetan Americans navigate, maintaining a connection to their heritage while integrating into the American societal fabric.


These efforts from the Tibetan American communities strike a balance between preserving and integrating culture in such a way that it provides one of the best examples to be modelled that fosters the development of diaspora community dynamics in the United States. McGranahan describes this commitment as, "refusing citizenship in South Asia as a means of claiming past, present, and future state sovereignty: Tibet was, Tibet is, Tibet will be."[9] Future studies could explore how younger generations of Tibetans will negotiate who they are and, most importantly, the meaning of their identity within an American society that is ever increasingly part of a globalized world and how those contributions will continue to change.


The integration of Tibetans in the US reflects the paradox between maintaining their separate cultural identities and involving themselves in the truly multicultural American landscape. Vasantkumar's (2016) observations accentuate this dynamic nuance: "Tibetans in Tibet, while hardly immobile, have not ‘moved’ in ways that render them recognizably diasporic."[10] This understanding is reflected in the experience of the Tibetans within the U.S., who—while in geographical dislocation—navigate identity in ways less than clear in projecting diasporic. The diasporic concept amongst communities like these is broader, as Vasantkumar points out: "Diaspora as a theoretical concept should be capacious enough to encompass both of these variants of Tibetan belonging, yet in its current form it is not.”[10] This inadequacy presses for another look at how Tibetans in the US negotiate cultural preservation and integration, moving beyond physical displacement to a deeper kind of cultural negotiation of identity and place. The conceptual difficulties to which Vasantkumar points to the "displacement in situ of Tibetans in Tibet with regard to manifold forms of Tibetan culture and nation."[10] This resonates deeply within the Tibetan American experience, whereby "home" and "dispersal" are continually reconstituted, problematized, and added to.


The US-based communities of Tibetans learned to balance these apparent contradictions: to keep all the integral parts of their cultural heritage while not standing out too much by adopting American life. Their unique identity has been preserved through education, religious practice, and cultural exchange efforts. Thus, this is illustrative in forming an excellent case study of their experience and how to keep their culture while making relevant changes in the world through globalization.

Culture and History of the Tibetan-Canadian Community in Toronto

The Parkdale Neighbourhood

The Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto is one of the largest settlements of people of Tibetan origin in North America. The Tibetan-Canadian community in Canada began to form in 1970 when Tibetan refugees who were living in India (after initially immigrating from Tibet due to China’s invasion and the leave of the 14th Dalai Lama in the 1950s) were allowed into Canada through a government resettlement project for refugees.[11] Diyin Deng’s paper “‘Not Just Based on Land’: A Study On The Ethnic Tibetan Community in Toronto” explains that “Dissatisfaction with the living standards and lack of access to education and work opportunities motivated the second wave of young Tibetans to migrate from India to the Americas and Europe between the 1960s-1970s. Deng writes that at the time, “Tibetans in India and Nepal [felt] as though they [were] forever visitors”.[11] From Deng’s interviews with members of the Parkdale community, it is uncovered that “the majority have also never been to Tibet and do not have any direct memories of the homeland”.[11] Tibetans who have migrated to Toronto in recent years tend to gravitate toward Parkdale because of its existing social network and resources. Housing has also been historically cheaper in the area, and jobs within the community are plentiful.[11] Deng describes Parkdale as a “gateway community”.[11] Parkdale provides a place for Tibetan migrants to settle into their new surroundings with the support of an already existing diasporic community.

David Gellner’s chapter “Introduction: The Nepali/Gorkhali Diaspora since the Nineteenth Century defines diaspora by stating “for a diaspora to exist there has to be a sense of national or quasi-national (religion-based) identity and the people so concerned must be settled outside the territory with which their identity is bound up. Cultural memories of links to a specific place have to last over the generations”.[12] Diaspora only exists through its connection to another space where its group identity and culture were formed. Throughout the following section, I will reveal how the Tibetan community in Parkdale connects to their roots in Tibet through the material importance of traditional cuisine, the benefits of a Tibetan cultural centre, and look at similarities between development in Parkdale and the notion of development in Tibet.

Key Aspects of Community


Traditional Tibetan cuisine and new forms of Tibetan dishes are central to the ‘Little Tibet’ part of the Parkdale Neighbourhood. A string of restaurants make up the core of the Parkdale neighbourhood, drawing in tourists. Deng’s paper explains that “the nine Tibetan restaurants in the Parkdale area not only satisfy the unique palates of Tibetans who crave a taste of Tibetan dishes with influences from India and Nepal, they also serve as an important landmark and marker of the unofficial ‘Little Tibet’ in the Parkdale area”.[11] Deng highlights how one of her interviewees, Tashi, sees examples of changes in traditional Tibetan foods in Parkland as “a good thing because it tells a story of migration, of fateful meetings and of Tibetans working together and adapting to the many difficulties and challenges of starting over”.[11]

A particularly important dish within Little Tibet is the Momo, a steamed dumpling popular in Tibet. In “A Sense of Community: The Untold Story of Canada’s ‘Little Tibet’” by Al Jazeera English, a Momo restaurant owner named Loga Loga explains the importance of the Momo for the Tibetan community in Parkdale. Loga explains that customers “are saying that this restaurant is not a restaurant, it feels like home”.[14] Loga describes the restaurants of Little Tibet as having “no competition” and that “we are very, very friendly".[14] Loga states that “this food is not just food, we’re serving my culture and tradition”.[14] He says that by “making Tibetan Momo” they are “making Tibetan culture alive”.[14]   

The importance of restaurants for the Tibetan community in Toronto is underscored in the Vice article “Dumplings Are Vital to Toronto’s Tibetan Youths” by Daniel Barna, where Barna writes, “restaurants are where Tibetans go to find one another, drawn by the prospect of lively debate and familiar aromas”.[15] The Tibetan restaurants of Parkdale provide a sense of home for the diasporic community, which has continued to grow in number over the years. Barna quotes a man named Urgyen Badheytsang who says, “‘when you live in a diasporic community, having a common place for people to share your food is an important way to stay connected to your culture’” and that “‘these restaurants become common grounds for us. This is where conversations happen. This is where families take their kids out’”.[15] These recognitions of the importance of the neighbourhood’s restaurants for connecting diasporic members to their Tibetan roots elucidate how integral material culture is to providing a grounded sense of community on new land.

The importance of material culture is ever present in Tibet too; an example is the everyday object of ritual gifting, the Khatak scarf. Emma Martin’s paper “Gift, Greeting Or Gesture: The Khatak And The Negotiating Of Its Meaning On The Anglo-Tibetan Borderlands examines the political relationship between the Viceroy of India and the Dalai Lama through a material lens as she focuses on the Khatak’s use in negotiations.[16] Martin cites Lobsang Dönden, saying, “in his preliminary description, [he] notes that the khatak ‘forms an indispensable practice that binds two sides into a cordial relationship in all important secular and religious events, festivals, and ceremonies’”.[16] The Tibetan Khatak is an example of material culture that serves a similar goal to Tibetan food in the Parkdale neighbourhood, as it unites Tibetan society and is a building block of community in the secular and religious spheres.

Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre

The Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre is one of the key binding agents of the ‘Little Tibet’ community in Toronto. It opened its doors on October 17th, 2007.[11] Diyin Deng spent a lot of time researching at the centre and found that the centre offers a wide variety of cultural and spiritual services.[11] One of the young Tibetans Deng interviewed explained that the centre provided a place for her to rediscover her language and heritage and gave her a way to contribute to the community.[11]

Deng is struck by how many events take place at the centre.[11] There are art workshops, sports events, Tibetan music concerts, and fundraisers.[11] Deng writes, “Things whizzed by so quickly that if my participants did not share events with me…I would have missed many events” and “I was disoriented by the speed and spontaneous nature of the Tibetans spaces as they appeared to come and go”.[11] The events at the centre often cost a lot for a population that is low income. Deng notes how, despite this, the community continues to participate in fundraiser events because they feel they owe it to the community.[11] Deng further states, “Their self-sacrificing actions in giving up their precious money and time go deeper than expected communal contributions, and are almost akin to acts of religious devotions and virtue to Tibetan Buddhism”.[11]

Gentrification & Development

The Parkdale neighbourhood has been targeted by outside buyers and developers who have caused rent increases in many of the high-rises. The rental stock has been bought in the past decade, and rent has skyrocketed to levels unaffordable for many in the community. Elena Ostanel’s “(In) visibilizing Vulnerable Community Members: Processes of Urban Inclusion and Exclusion in Parkdale, Toronto” reveals the deeper levels behind how space is manipulated by developers. Ostanel says that studying Parkdale revealed how the developer’s goals for the neighbourhood drive them to portray the neighbourhood in a way so that they could develop the area to disrupt the existing community.[17] Ostanel also writes that “in the everyday life of low-income groups in rented accommodation, people at the margin of the society for different reasons and the working class, as well as independent artists, have been erased from the widely accepted narrative, and policies have extensively used it to justify unequal urban transformations”.[17] Because of the growing gentrification of the Parkdale neighbourhood, many of the reasons why Tibetans first settled there are beginning to fade away. The cost of living is rising, and people can no longer afford to participate in the community. This development from outside of the community can only lead to the fabric of the Little Tibet neighbourhood being re-shaped and potentially creating a loss of community and identity. Ostanel says “the privatization of urban space (and development planning mechanisms) increase the displacement and marginalization of certain groups of people”.[17]

The development occurring in Parkdale can be compared to Chinese notions of development in Lhasa, Tibet. Deng’s article explains that “through the gift of development, the Chinese government effectively asserts its space and reshapes Tibetans as ‘subjects in need of development’”.[11] Emily T. Yeh’s article “Tropes of Indolence and the Cultural Politics of Development in Lhasa, Tibet” covers the way the notion of ‘development’ is spread in Tibet by Chinese officials. Tibetans are constantly taught the importance of development and it has been engrained within their society.[18] In Damian Grammaticas’s “Is Development Killing Tibet’s Way of Life?”, the author writes, “China’s government genuinely believes its policies are helping transform Tibet from what officials say was a state of ‘backwardness’” and that many locals in Tibet believe that economic development is not helping Tibet but Chinese workers.[19] Grammaticas writes, Tibetans "say their way of life and cultural identity are all under threat” because of this rhetoric of development.[19] To illustrate how prevalent China’s ideology of development is, Yeh writes, “Development does not circulate only in visual displays, leaders’ speeches, policy documents, and academic conferences. It also finds its way into intimate social spaces of the home and the teahouse, as the subject of everyday conversation, black humour, and ironic banter, which sometimes sarcastically exaggerates the eventual transformative power of development, as with the suggestion that once truly developed, Tibetans will even be freed from the bodily constraint of needing to eat”.[18] Overall, there are strong parallels between how development has been enforced in Tibet by Chinese occupation and how Parkdale has been targeted as a place in need of development and restructuring.

Example of a map

Identity, Belonging, and Transnational Connections of the Himalayan Diaspora in New York

Economic Experiences of Himalayans in New York

Photograph of Jackson Heights at sunset by Aleksandr Zykov (Flickr). 6 November 2012, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.

The Himalayan mountain range stretches over 2400 kilometres from Myanmar across Bhutan, northern India, and Nepal to Pakistan.[20] The "ethnographically complex" region represents numerous cultural traditions that have their own practices.[20] The major cultural traditions can be "classified by race, by language, by religion, by political, social, or economic organisation."[20] The Himalayan diaspora in North America is the dispersal of people, and described as a "casting out and across, a transformation of ways of life, [and] a re-imagining of belonging."[21] As no two experiences are identical, it is important to understand and value that each person has their own experiences of moving or immigrating to the United States of America.[21] People from the diverse region relocate to America in search of economic successes, experiences, and to provide a better life for their children.[21]

The 'American Dream' for Himalayan Immigrants

The 'American Dream' falsely advertises a country that further marginalises racial minorities and fails to provide adequate support for immigrants and low income individuals. The United States, described as a 'dream country' by many, comes with numerous economic challenges, like having to simultaneously attend a post-secondary institution and work a low-wage job.[22] Of the many diverse experiences of Himalayan immigrants, a significant percentage of them work low-paying jobs in New York to pay their bills and provide for their families, both in America and Asia. Sienna R. Craig, an anthropologist that focuses on the Himalayan diaspora in North America, references the experiences of Yutok and Tashi from Mustang, Nepal who work at a Whole Foods greenhouse.[21] In another piece of Craig's ethnographic work, she talks about Tenzin, a librarian at a public library in Brooklyn.[23] Kanchan, a young woman, pays for their own education in New York and balances a low-paying job.[22] Even though Yutok, Tashi, Tenzin, and Kanchan may dream of economic success in America, it is unlikely that they will reach economic stability in an expensive city that eats the low-income population.

One man, an undocumented worker from Nepal, drives a taxi in New York "for at least 10-14 hours a day" to provide for his family.[22] His wife recently gave birth to a son in the United States, and he hopes his son "will be able to bear the fruits of [his] labour."[22] Bimala, from Nepal, works over sixty hours a week in a carpet repair shop for three hundred dollars, which amounts to less than five dollars per hour.[22] With about twelve hundred dollars to survive on for an entire month, Bimala is barely able to afford a month's rent in Jackson Heights in 2014. Both individuals work extensive hours for minimal monetary gain, a prime example of how the American economy takes advantage of immigrant labourers.

Women's Autonomy and the 'American Dream'

Anthropologist Bandita Sijapati emphasises that women enjoy America as a "source of liberation" for their economic and psychological accords.[22] Despite the hardships they experience in New York, like being thousands of kilometres from family, many women share that their relocation is worth it.[22] A study from 2015 focusing on thirty five Nepali women in New York and Boston finds that the "only practical" way for them to find work in America is to work in daycares and informal care settings.[24] David N. Gellner denotes this as a "downward mobility," in which almost all immigrants experience in the United States.

Simran, a young woman from a town outside Kathmandu, talks about her experience of dropping out of school in New York because she could not afford her monthly rent, despite splitting living costs with other Nepali women.[22] She describes her experiences as disgraceful and shameful, as she lives with a much older married Nepali man that had children.[22] Simran tells her parents about her job as an assistant manager in a business firm, even though she does not actually work there.[22] Although this is not a uniform experience of all young women from the region, Simran shares that "America is a place where [she] lost [her] virtue and the morals that [she] was brought up with."[22] No one plans to be in an illicit relationship and, unfortunately, Simran is in one due to economic hardships. For those hoping to make their 'American Dream' come true, feelings of disappointment and failure are understandable because of the false narrative surrounding the economic challenges associated with immigration.

The Himalayan-New Yorker Community During COVID-19

Of the five New York boroughs, Queens is the "most ethnically diverse" one.[25] Craig emphasises that Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights were the "epicentre[s] of the epicentre" during the COVID-19 outbreak due to the high population of frontline workers and overcrowded housing.[23] It is plausible that Himalayan-New Yorkers in Queens suffered greatly during the pandemic because of their sense of community and togetherness with each other. Furthermore, it became quite difficult to send money home to the Himalayan region during the public health crisis. For those from Mustang, they usually send money home with whoever is travelling back to the community; however, many Mustangis were out of work during the outbreak in early-to-mid 2020 and international travel was frowned upon.[25] The sense of economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic significantly added to feelings of exhaustion, both mentally and physically, for many Himalayan immigrants.

Yamuna Shrestha's Dumping Hot Spot in Jackson Heights

Yamuna Shrestha, owner of a Nepalese dumping restaurant in Jackson Heights, owes over $150,000 USD in rent.[26] The pandemic closed her restaurant for several months in 2020, and the dumping hot spot was "slow to recover" after reopening.[26] Shrestha pays her landlord more than $13,000 USD each month, as she slowly pays back her debt.[26] She shares that she often works eighteen-hour days, which are both mentally and physically exhausting.[26] Between 2019 and 2021, the average rent per square foot skyrocketed nine percent in Queens.[26] Although Shrestha is allowed to work in the United States, her immigration status is "withholding of removal," which means she would likely not be allowed to re-enter the States if she leaves.[26] Due to her status, the Small Business Administration rejected her application for a $83,000 USD loan.[26] After repaying her debt, Shrestha's "main concern" is being with her family that she hasn't seen since leaving Nepal in 2008.[26] The economic exploitation of immigrants like her is disgusting, disappointing, and detrimental.


The Himalayan diaspora in New York parallels the Himalayan mountain range -- from Myanmar to Bhutan, northern India, and Nepal to Pakistan -- as both are "ethnographically complex." Many from the region immigrate to America in pursuit of achieving their 'American Dream,' but experience significant economic hardships when in New York. From having to balance education, low-wage employment, social relations, and more, Himalayan immigrants face economic complications, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rubin Museum of Art & Contemporary Himalayan Diaspora Art in New York

Rubin Museum of Art

Photograph of The Rubin Museum of Art by Ajay Suresh (Flickr). 11 November 2019, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC.

Founded in 2004 by Donald and Shelley Rubin[27] in the Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York, the Rubin Museum of Art displays a collection of over 1,000 Himalayan art objects spanning 1,500 years of history, largely from the Tibetan Plateau. Originating from the Rubins’ private collection of Himalayan art, its mission is to provide a dynamic environment promoting learning, understanding, and personal connections to the ideas, cultures, and art of Himalayan regions. [28][29]

Project Himalayan Art

"Look down form the staircase, Inside the Rubin Museum Of Art" by Guan Yu Chen. 15 October 2017

The museum initiated “Project Himalayan Art,” an interdisciplinary resource for learning about Himalayan, Tibetan, and Inner Asian art and cultures via their archive of physical and digital scholarly resources. Focusing on cross-cultural exchange centered on Tibet with a common connecting thread of Buddhism, the three-part initiative, consisting of a digital platform, book publication (Himalayan Art in 108 Objects), and traveling exhibition (Gateway to Himalayan Art), seeks to support the region’s inclusion into undergraduate teaching on Asian art and culture.

In “Himalayan Art and Cross-Cultural Exchange”, Karl Debreczeny and Elena Pakhoutova[30] explain the auspicious importance of the number 108 as a sacred number in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, echoed through the project. Rooted in Indian Vedic sonic traditions, the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and the letters representing the 8 sections of the alphabet are repeated twice to make a “garland of sounds”; resulting in 108 prayer beads, 108 volumes of the Buddhist canon, etc. Whereas it has often been grouped in with Indian and Chinese, or and South and East Asian art, Himalayan art in reality traverses these nationally and regionally-defined geospatial divisions as a historical space for cross-cultural exchanges between various cultures, and the “Himalayan” label encompasses artwork from the Himalayan mountain range, Tibetan Plateau, Mongolian areas of Inner Asia, and Kashmir. The authors write that the artistic and religious traditions of these regions, including the cross-cultural connections between ideas, people, and objects, are sustained in the present, flourishing both locally and internationally through modern artists’ engagement with global contemporary discourse via traditional foundational forms.

Jingwei Li writes in “Guru Rinpoche is Śivajī” (2023) [31] that the market and media’s value construction narrative concerning the tradition of ethnic art in post-1990 Nepal semiotically trends towards the nation, the state, and civilization mobilized through the lens of political, market, and global values. Linking artists’ self-expression to their community’s realities of social life, the author suggests viewing the dynamics of ethnicity as a multi-center cosmopolitan system transcending borders and boundaries.

Through their provision of on-site residencies for young Asian and Asian-American artists, Brooklyn-based visual artist and “Indo-Futurist”[32] Chitra Ganesh was the Rubin’s 2018 Artist in Residence and produced the exhibition The Scorpion Gesture (Feb 2, 2018 - Jan 7, 2019). Featuring a series of 5 large-scale animated artistic “interventions” that interact with collection objects in the Rubin’s Gateway to Himalayan Art and Masterworks galleries, the works draw inspiration from depictions of Padmasambhava, known to Tibetans as the Second Buddha, and Maitreya, the Future Buddha.

Ganesh is also one of 32 Himalayan regional artists featured in the Rubin building’s farewell exhibition, “Reimagine: Himalayan Art Now”, co-curated by Michelle Bennett Simorella, Director of Curatorial Administration & Collections of the Rubin; Roshan Mishra of Taragaon Next (a private museum in Kathmandu, Nepal); and Tsewang Lhamo, founder of the Yakpo Collective (New York, Tibetan diaspora artists) in celebration of the museum’s 20th-anniversary year, on view from March 15 to October 6, 2024. Participating artists’ works are exhibited in dialogue with select objects from the Rubin’s collection.[33] Tselha (Tsewang Lhamo) is a Nepal-born, South India-raised Tibetan-American filmmaker, digital designer, and artist based in Queens, New York, who draws inspiration from her Tibetan diaspora experience. In opposition of commodity consumption, Lhamo writes that the exhibit demands audiences’ attention towards the ethical questions being posed about power, responsibility, identity, and return. [33]

Many of the featured works concerned memory and the preservation of culture - third-generation New York-based Tibetan diaspora artist Losel Yauch employs paint, tapestry, and sculpture to evoke and reconstruct the fragments of cultural memory lost through historical projects of erasure. Leigh Miller’s 2016 article “‘The Look Of Tibet’ without Religion” provides an analysis of Lhasa-based contemporary artist Gadé’s works that illustrates the entanglement of religion and the secular in modern Tibet. Miller writes that since the 1980s - the birth of the contemporary Tibetan art movement - personal expression and Buddhist artistic conventions have been complexly negotiated through artistic, social, religious, and personal identities. Both Gadé and Yauch’s works seek to “urgently document the present, in which memory and its transmission are troubled” through the reassembling of fragments that does not “deny the fullness of their contemporary lives” (66-67). [34]

Provenance, controversy, Itumbaha Museum

After the Rubin’s voluntary repatriation of two relics looted from Kathmandu Valley in 1999 and ending up in their collection - a 17th-century toran of Yampi Mahavihar and 14th-century flying gandarbha of Itumbaha - The Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign called on the Rubin to carry out an in-depth inventory review and the provenance of its collection including objects on display and in storage, to begin its participation in a fully-transparent process of introspection and taking responsibility. [] The Rubin’s provision of financial support towards the Keshchandra Mahavihara Conservation Society’s foundation of the Itumbaha Museum within the Mahabihar shrine was interpreted by some as a diversion from their responsibility as foreign collectors towards the return of stolen heritage belongings from the Kathmandu Valley. On July 29th, 2023, protestors from “The Rubin Go Back Campaign” held a demonstration in Itumbaha at Basantapur Durbar Square, alleging that building a museum at the centuries-old public worship site would interrupt its intergenerational usage by the community.

Building closure and the future

On January 31st, 2024, the Rubin announced it would move towards a global museum model and close its nearly 70,000 square foot New York building to the public on October 6th to become “a museum without walls” via loaning items from its collection; expanding educational resources like videos, podcasts, and essays; and organizing traveling exhibits on a global scale in partnership with other cultural organizations, in pursuit of continuing to care for, study, and share its collection.

Bhutanese Refugees in Canada: Finding Community and Building Resilience


The Bhutanese ethnic community of Lhotshampas, often understood to mean “the people from the south”, have a long and complex history of multiple forms of oppression and discrimination that they faced based on their unique identity[35]. In 1988, they made up about 45% of the total population in Bhutan but by the following year, the government stripped them of their citizenship due to their Nepalese ancestry[36]. This invasion of rights was not sudden, however, and had taken place over time through cultural assimilation policies of enforced dress codes and language policies, as well as through the forced emigration of Lhotshampa individuals, who were nonetheless marked as “voluntary emigrants” who had “no love or loyalty for the country”[37]. Following this, over 100,000 Lhotsampas fled to Nepal where they were identified as refugees and placed in refugee camps[37]. However, soon after that came the Maoist People’s War in Nepal where they were once again subject to further violence[36]. Finally, in 2007, the UNHCR and the Government of Nepal decided on third-country resettlement for the community, thereby resulting in many coming to Canada[36].

Following Canada’s resettlement program, such refugees were, in their first year, provided with financial and social support resources. After that period, however, they began facing ongoing discrimination, economic challenges, and language barriers and struggled to find educational and healthcare services. Unsurprisingly, these issues disproportionately affected those most disadvantaged, such as older people or individuals who did not speak English, and these systemic barriers manifested in the form of greater physical and psychological issues within the demographic[36].

Life in Canada:

For many Bhutanese refugees today, life in Canada has proven to be difficult in multiple ways. For some, this came in the form of housing stress with some households contributing 41% or more of their monthly income towards housing[38]. This issue is also tied to struggles around finding English language classes which are required for employment opportunities, inadequate modes of transportation, and lack of access to childcare[38]. Moreover, many note that employers require previous Canadian work experience, which they do not possess[39]. Another issue that the community faces is in terms of religious practices, and it mainly affects Hindu refugees in Quebec due to the lack of a temple present, thereby taking away another source of comfort for many[40]. Here, many are also unable to properly observe their religious celebrations due to their unfamiliarity in a new geographical location, away from their own space of longstanding traditions and belonging.

Beyond this, many unsurprisingly also face healthcare issues. This is often a result of the ongoing amount of stress faced by these individuals, in addition to the pre-migration traumas being experienced after migration, which are then somaticized and presented in the form of physical health complaints. These issues are further made worse as many refugees, following social stigma, do not engage in preventative care.[36]

Community and Resilience:

Like many cultures in the global South, the Bhutanese community places a significant focus on community. Indeed, this is reflected through many refugees receiving information about important resources from their loved ones more than through formal agencies. Similarly, when managing stress, family and friends were found to help individuals by using different forms of culturally sanctioned interventions to target root causes of distress and providing positive coping strategies, such as providing sympathy, helping the individual shift their attitude, or simply keeping them distracted. One refugee even noted that within their community “a friend is a psychologist”, thereby further highlighting its importance. This has thus even helped people avoid negative coping methods such as avoidance and substance abuse.[41]

In addition to stress, dietary shifts have also been a significant challenge for refugees, and this has been a gendered issue mostly affecting postpartum women. In Bhutan, the postpartum period is filled with social support with relatives providing new mothers with culturally approved foods to help with recovery and also to pass on generational knowledge about healthy foods. This includes an increase in the consumption of ingredients like ghee, mustard oil, herbs, Ayurvedic medicines, etc. for physical wellness and to promote lactation, and avoiding spicy foods, tomatoes, and leafy greens to prevent discomfort.[42]

Like women, another demographic being disproportionately affected due to migration is older refugees who make up roughly 8.5% of the total population. Such older individuals often experience more challenges with language barriers, social isolation, employment, and health care, and exhibit higher levels of anxiety and depression[43]. Like other refugees, these issues seemed to be lessened upon using strategies such as interpersonal support and helping others, thus forming a collective identity, and creating a greater sense of purpose by utilizing their shared lived experiences[44].

However, migration disrupted many of these essential community networks, such as family members being forced to live in different houses due to occupancy standards, thereby changing integral family living structures[38]. Such disruption during the resettlement process has even been linked to the recent rise in suicide among such refugee populations[36]. It also affected the communities discussed above, with postpartum women experiencing dietary shifts due to barriers around language, access, and affordability, thereby losing invaluable traditional culinary and health knowledge[42]. Similarly, for older refugees, a lack of social support resulted in many individuals being unable to find positivity and hope after their extensive trauma and loss[44].

A Path Ahead:

Being a refugee often means that existing and taking up space are acts of resistance, and many Bhutanese refugees practice this, directly and indirectly, in their everyday lives to preserve their cultural and political identity[45]. For instance, despite the lack of a temple, many try to celebrate religious events even when facing difficulty with conflicting work schedules[40]. Many also attempt to build new communities, such as by going to libraries and parks and engaging in recreational activities, for example, swimming, skating, or playing sports[38]. They also find joy in their children’s lives, such as when they excel at school or make new friends[38] [44].

However, more effort needs to be present within Canada for better integration opportunities. This effort must be multidisciplinary in order to accommodate the unique struggles that refugees face. For example, people’s response to stressors often varies by culture, race, and ethnicity and needs to be accommodated accordingly. Within the medical industry, such changes would not only help healthcare workers understand their patients’ struggles better, but also help such patients have greater trust in their doctors, despite the unfamiliar setting. Furthermore, initiatives to strengthen communal ties would also help support the community’s mental and physical wellbeing, and aid in retaining essential parts of their culture such as their religious traditions and food practices. In these ways, such a community would be able to maintain its unique cultural identity within this new cultural context.

Nepalese Diaspora: Earthquake Refugees in Texas, America

The Nepalese diaspora in the United States, though having a relatively recent origin, has become one of the most substantial Nepalese communities globally. Often referred to as the third wave of labor migration in Nepal, the migration to America began in the 1980s. This wave followed the initial migration to Darjeeling and Bhutan throughout the nineteenth century, driven by the need to escape oppressive taxation, and the second wave to India from the 1960s for seasonal employment[46] . The twenty-first century has seen refugees and asylees become the predominant categories among Nepalese immigrants[47], particularly after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, which left thousands homeless and prompted them to seek Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in America. Despite their substantial economic contributions to their assigned states, TPS holders face numerous challenges in their efforts to reside permanently in America.

Nepalese Diaspora in America

Before 1947, America's immigration policies did not permit Nepalese migrants due to Nepal's restrictive policies and the lack of diplomatic relations with the U.S [48]. The initial group of Nepalese immigrants arrived in 1956, and for the following decade, fewer than ten Nepalese entered the U.S. annually[47]. It wasn't until 1968 that the numbers modestly increased, consistently staying below 100 per year until 1983 when 105 immigrants were admitted[47]. From 1988 to the early 2000s, influenced by the third wave of immigration, these numbers regularly exceeded 100 but stayed below 1000 annually[47]. After 2005, particularly from 2010 onward, there was an increase in Nepalese obtaining permanent residency as refugees or asylum seekers due to the civil conflict in Nepal, which forced many from Kathmandu to migrate abroad[49]. A childcare provider, Kabit, and her husband migrated to America with a diversity visa and stated, “If our political situation were stable and favorable in Nepal, we would not have applied for the diversity visa lottery" [50]. Among these migrants, the majority are educated, belonging to the middle class or elite, migrating for education and employment opportunities in America. However, those live in rural areas or from lower caste such as the Dalit lack opportunities to migrate overseas. In response to social injustices and the unfair caste system, the Diversity Visa Program has provided these disadvantaged individuals an opportunity to migrate to America. Since 2000, over 167,000 Nepalese have migrated to the U.S., including those with less education, facilitated by the program's requirement of a high school diploma and two years of work experience [47].

2015 Earthquake and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nepalese

In April and May 2015, two big earthquakes struck Nepal. These earthquakes lasted for over two months and resulted in over 300 substantial aftershocks [51]. Such catastrophic events led to approximately 10,000 deaths and left 200 million people homeless, particularly those in rural areas. This disaster intensified the migration wave to America, peaking from 2013 to 2022 [49]. On June 24 of the same year, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced Nepal as one of the Temporary Protected Status designations, allowing its citizens to come to America for temporary settlement [52].

Temporary Protected Status is a humanitarian program established by the U.S. Congress in 1990, which allows migrants from designated countries considered unsafe due to political conflict or environmental crises to live and work in the United States for a temporary but extendable period[53]. Although TPS holders are not considered permanent residents or U.S. citizens, they can still seek employment and education, with the possibility to apply for permanent residency or citizenship. Along with Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, and 12 other countries, the number of Nepalese TPS holders has increased to approximately 14,800 individuals since 2015 [54].

Nepalese Diaspora as TPS Holders in Texas

TPS Holders in Texas, USA (November 2018)

According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), among all states of America, Texas received the second highest number of migrants for TPS, totaling 33,300 [55]. The majority of these TPS holders are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, numbering over 44,800 [56]. The largest number of Nepalese TPS holders also resides in Texas, with a count of 2,690, followed by New York and California [57]. Research in 2022 shows that the majority of TPS holders come from Bagmati Pradesh in Nepal, and on average 31 years old; there are more male TPS holders than female, with about 70% of them identified as men[54]. The majority of them are married and have children in America, feeling insecure about their potential future of returning to Nepal due to the unstable TPS status[54].

Challenge of TPS Holders in Texas: Cancellation of TPS Status

Nepalese Migrants Protesting for Ending TPS Program

To restrict immigration as one of the central topics during the Trump administration, since late 2017, there have been policies aimed at terminating TPS protections. Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan were the first three countries to end TPS programs, followed by Salvadorans in January 2018, and Nepal and Honduras in April[53]. Despite critics suggesting that Nepal is still recovering from the earthquake[58], the government concluded that Nepal had recovered sufficiently and should be able to host back its nationals. The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, supported the Supreme Court decision on Twitter: “The Supreme Court rules that immigration laws must actually be followed,” he stated, “A unanimous Court, in an opinion by Justice [Elena] Kagan, explains that in order to apply for legal residency, you must have been admitted to the country lawfully. To stay here legally, you must come here legally"[59].

Fortunately, a class-action lawsuit against the termination of TPS in 2018 won and extended Nepal's TPS status for an additional 18 months, until June 24, 2025[60]. Despite the temporary relief, the Nepalese TPS holders still suffer from the fear of losing their protected status, which potentially harms their mental health and disrupts their lives. About 70% of Nepali TPS holders worry about this matter once a day or more, and over half of them worry that losing their protected status will separate them from their children[54]. The current TPS system in Texas also presents challenges to them, despite their contributions to Texas. For example, the state has not provided in-state tuition rates for TPS holders, limiting their access to affordable education[61]; Moreover, although eighty-three percent of TPS-eligible Nepalis have health insurance, their healthcare access is limited to community clinics for basic medical aid[47].

Contribution of Nepalese TPS holders

After facing critical circumstances, the Nepalese TPS holders in Texas continue to contribute significantly to the economy of Texas and the country of America. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they served the country as nurses, doctors, and grocery staff, helping all Americans to stay safe and ensuring daily needs[54]. They are also customers who have promoted sales on cars and houses, creating occupations and new spending[54]. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, Texas’s GDP would lose 2.2 million dollars if TPS holders were deported from the country[62]. Therefore, it is important to keep Nepalese TPS holders and encourage them to become citizens or permanent residents in Texas in oder to maintain the growing of Nepalese diaspora, as it is pointed out by Gellner and Hausner (2018): “any diaspora worth its name has to last beyond a generation” [46].

The Connection between New York and the Himalayas: the diaspora's sense of belonging to their ethnic backgrounds

New York, one of the world's largest and most influential cities, cobbles together a vibrant mosaic of people with various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, allowing people to sustain cultural continuity and nurturing the varying sense of belonging across generations of immigrants. The Himalayan population, encompassing communities originating in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and many other regions, weaves their distinct traditions, heritages and languages into the cities' diverse tapestry. However, how do the Himalayan people negotiate their sense of identity and belonging in this multicultural terrain, transcending geographical borders to carry their legacies? With a primary focus on Tibetans and Bhutanese as the epitome, the Himalayan diaspora in New York fosters solidarity and strengthens the sense of belonging to their ethnic backgrounds through the unrestricted atmosphere, the preservation of languages, and transnational connections.

The Inclusive Environment And Its Role in Foresting A Sense of Belonging

Free Tibet Calls for Tibetan Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima's Freedom on His Birthday @ Chinese Consulate in New York[63]

Despite residing in distant geographical regions, New York cultivates a sense of belonging for the Himalayan diaspora to their ethnic roots by providing an unconstrained environment. With the intervention of hegemonic regimes, many Himalayan people cannot fully embrace their faith and culture in their homelands. Take Tibetans in China as an example; around the early 1980s, the government started to implement residential schools to forbid children from speaking Tibetan tongues, aiming to disconnect them from their cultural and religious heritage to groom them into the government's loyalists (Lo, 2023).[64] Such policies may result in what Vasantkumar(2017)[65]called a sense of displacement stemming from witnessing the erosion of culture and traditions within their community without necessarily leaving their homeland. In "Mother Tongues and Language Competence: The Shifting Politics of Linguistic Belonging in the Himalayas," Turin (2014) also emphasizes that "minority language identities are often forged because of struggle and protest in opposition to dominant linguistic ideologies mandated by the nation-state and underwritten by its legislation" (p. 376)[66]. In the case of Tibetans exiled from China due to political dissent, they gain the opportunity to safeguard their language and heritage, thus strengthening their cultural and language identities, away from the direct interference of the Chinese government. According to MacPherson et al. (2008)[67], many exiled Tibetans perceive migration as an avenue to seek political freedom and safety, with about 9000 located in the United States; among them, 3000 are in New York. The Himalayan diaspora, specifically those who have experienced restrictions in their homelands, are able to practice their beliefs, preserve their languages, and protest for human rights freely by relocating to an inclusive place like New York. Through cultural continuity and the empowerment of protest, people will provide emotional support for each other and strengthen their sense of belonging. Additionally, New York's multicultural nature can bridge minorities who are facing similar struggles, thus building solidarity.

The Role of Language in Building Solidarity

As an indispensable element of the cultural legacy, the Himalayan diaspora in New York is committed to preserving their distinctive languages to reinforce their ancestral ties and shared linguistic bonds. Language plays a multifaceted role in shaping both self-perception and the way others view individuals. When people can communicate in the language of their cultural identity, they will forge connections with those with similar backgrounds, reinforcing their sense of identity. Yet, if they do not, there are certain limitations in their ability to develop intimacy with their culture as many traditions, myths, folklore, and historical narratives are inherited through written or oral forms in language. For instance, in "Young and Tibetan in Queens," Tsejin explains that many people quickly lose fluency in Tibetan languages due to the rare chances for practice after moving to the United States. Yet, retaining the language is crucial as it holds the key to understanding important history and culture (Endangered Language Alliance, 2016, 5:17-5:34)[68]. In this context, the preservation of their language serves as a means of resisting assimilation into American culture and anchoring their distinct identity.

Furthermore, language is not only a symbol of identity but also a tool for building communities. The first generation of immigrants, who are often proficient in their native tongues, play a significant role in preserving and passing their languages to future generations. Ulap, an immigrant from Bhutan to New York, cultivates a community with his cultural and language school for younger Bhutanese children (Endangered Language Alliance, 2017, 10:37)[69]. Tsejin also illustrates that she goes to Tibetan schools (Endangered Language Alliance, 2016)[70]. Within these organizations, languages become not only an instrument of communication but a valuable link to ancestral roots and personal connections. Nira Yuval-Davis states that belonging "is not just about membership, rights and duties, but also about the emotions such memberships evoke" (Yuval-Davis, 2004; as Cited in Turin, 2014, p. 376)[71]. Speaking the shared language and immersing in the community that language fostered, like language schools, can ground immigrants in their cultural identity and raise emotional attachment, providing that emotion Yuval-Davis indicated, thus reinforcing their belonging to their ethnic backgrounds in their adopted homeland.

The Transnational Connections Through Remittance

Transnational connection is another way the Himalayan diaspora maintains their sense of belonging to their home countries. In "A Superstar in Bhutan, a Newcomer to New York," Ulap elucidates that despite being a public figure, the income in his home country is not as high as in New York, and he can support his family back home by working in New York (Endangered Language Alliance, 2017, 5:00-6:00)[72]. In The Ends of Kinship, Craig(2020) also illuminates the intricate dynamics of familial ties and connections between Nepal and New York through remittance (p. 5-7)[73]. Through financial support, which is a tangible expression of responsibility, the Himalayan diaspora in New York maintains bonds with their family, nurturing a sense of care and commitment to their homelands. The remittances provided by the Himalayan diaspora in New York can also contribute to the economic growth of their home countries, shaping the socio-economic landscape of their communities back home. The enduring care for their homeland and contribution through remittances empowers the Himalayan diaspora to continue working in New York and closely ties them to their homelands, reinforcing their sense of belonging and identities to their ethnical backgrounds.

First and Subsequent Generation Immigrants' Varying Sense of Belonging

Although the Himalayan diaspora in New York manifests a sense of belonging to their homelands, it is important to recognize that the subsequent generation of immigrants might exhibit lower attachment to their native lands compared to the first generation. In "Ama-la's Story," Tibetan Choe from Queens elucidates that: "Some Tibetan children, if we talk in Tibetan, they don't understand" (Endangered Language Alliance, 2016, 5:29)[74]. Gurung et al.(2018) also point out that the heavy workload occupies his fellow "countrymen and women" 's time thus leaving their children "growing up in a diaspora context without a clear sense of their cultural heritage" in New York (p. 67)[75]. While the maintenance of the sense of belonging to their homelands can vary due to different factors, the subsequent generation of the Himalayan diaspora in New York appears to feel less connection to their ethnic backgrounds without experiencing the biodiverse nature in the Himalayas and submerging in the cultural milieu.

The Multifaceted Impact of Migration on Health and Cultural Practices: A Case Study of Mustang, Nepal, Migrants in New York City

The discourse surrounding diaspora, transnationalism, and mobility has often been framed within the confines of traditional Western notions of movement, which primarily conceptualize it as a linear transition from one geographical location to another.[76] This perspective, however, is challenged by the theoretical framework of transnationalism, which emphasizes the maintenance of health, social expectations, cultural practices, and political ties across borders, suggesting a more complex and dynamic understanding of migration.[77]

The picturesque region of Mustang in Nepal, renowned for its rugged landscapes and rich cultural heritage, has experienced a notable exodus of its populace to various destinations worldwide, notably New York City, in recent years. This migration, primarily motivated by the pursuit of enhanced economic prospects and an elevated standard of living, carries significant ramifications for the Mustangi diaspora. Particularly affected by this phenomenon are women, who grapple with the intricate dynamics of pregnancy, childbirth, and healthcare within a transnational framework, bridging the considerable cultural and geographic gaps between Mustang and New York. This essay delves into the multifaceted repercussions of migration from Mustang to New York, with a specific focus on health, cultural norms, and identity, giving special attention to the experiences of women.

Ancient Tibetan Medicine

Healthcare Access and Medical Pluralism

Dekyi's perspective on healthcare reveals a critical attitude towards traditional Tibetan medicinal practices and healing methods.[78] Her skepticism stems from concerns regarding the economic implications and perceived effectiveness of these traditional modalities.[78] Dekyi's aspiration for improved healthcare in the United States highlights the obstacles migrants encounter while adapting to a new healthcare system. This transition entails not only adjusting to a different array of medical techniques but also grappling with the intricacies of a market-driven healthcare model, which presents both prospects for enhanced treatment and apprehensions due to unfamiliarity and potential financial burdens.[78]

The Mustang community demonstrates a form of medical pluralism, which embraces a variety of health approaches, including both traditional Tibetan healing practices and biomedical healthcare. This coexistence reflects a broader pattern observed in culturally Tibetan societies, wherein traditional and biomedical healing approaches are not mutually exclusive but rather coexist within a multifaceted healthcare framework.[78] In Mustang, as well as within the diaspora, individuals navigate between these healthcare systems, making decisions influenced by cultural beliefs, economic factors, and the perceived efficacy of various treatments.[78] The range of responses to illness within the community, from skepticism towards traditional practices to a pragmatic integration of Tibetan and biomedical methods, underscores the dynamic nature of medical pluralism.

Relationship between Tibetan Medicine and Western Biomedicine

Examining the interaction between Tibetan medicine and Western biomedicine from multiple perspectives elucidates the complexities and challenges involved in reconciling these distinct medical systems.[79] The reading explores efforts to modernize Tibetan medicine to conform to the standards of evidence-based biomedicine.[79] Furthermore, it examines the contentious issues surrounding the integration and assimilation of these two medical traditions, questioning whether Western medical practices and research can validate Tibetan medicine without undermining its authenticity.[79] It also delineates the tensions arising from this interaction within clinical and research settings, emphasizing a broader context of medical pluralism and the ongoing dialogue between Western and Tibetan scientific frameworks.[79]

Changing Childbirth and Motherhood Practices

The transition from Mustang to New York precipitates notable changes in childbirth and motherhood customs. In Mustang, childbirth typically entails traditional rituals, beliefs, and the supportive presence of a tight-knit community.[78] The introduction of customs such as commemorating birthdays and Mother's Day exemplifies an embrace of new cultural norms previously absent in Mustang.[80] These observances not only symbolize the assimilation of Mustangi families into American society but also the negotiation of novel identities as they reconcile their cultural heritage with the conventions of their new milieu. The adoption of these fresh practices mirrors a broader process of cultural adjustment, as Mustangi families endeavor to uphold a sense of communal belonging and continuity amid transformative circumstances.

Additionally, the transition from traditional childbirth customs to more medically oriented deliveries in Mustang signifies broader transformations in healthcare strategies and cultural perspectives regarding safety and well-being. Historically, a significant number of Mustang women opted for home births, a practice deeply entrenched in the community's heritage and sustained by familial support networks.[78] However, recent trends in labor migration and the impact of contemporary healthcare methodologies have instigated a substantial shift. Presently, financial remittances from overseas family members facilitate access to hospitals in urban hubs such as Pokhara or Kathmandu, signaling a departure from home deliveries towards a preference for medicalized births.[78] This transition is not solely attributed to the availability of financial means but also reflects evolving cultural notions of what constitutes a "safe" childbirth. The decision to pursue hospital births, influenced by migration patterns, underscores the intricate interplay between traditional customs and modern healthcare, wherein choices are molded by newfound opportunities engendered by migration and socio-economic shifts.[78]

However, the imposition of Western ideals on childbirth practices in developing countries like Nepal brings forth several implications affecting both the cultural integrity and healthcare outcomes of these societies. One notable consequence is the marginalization of local customs and practices in favour of a biomedical understanding of birth. This biomedical ideology emphasizes the separation of the physiological aspects of childbirth from social, moral, and religious considerations, thereby requiring traditional birth attendants (TBAs), to modify their practices.[81] Despite TBAs traditionally providing assistance during childbirth and acquiring skills through apprenticeship rather than formal medical education, this approach overlooks the emotional and social significance of birth and leads to the exclusion of practices through which communities express care for pregnant women, new mothers, and babies.[81]

Community and Cultural Aspects of Disability

The experiences of a quadriplegic woman within a traditional Tibetan community highlight the intricate communal and cultural dimensions of disability. In traditional contexts, disability is often interpreted within a multifaceted framework encompassing moral philosophies, societal interactions, and the dynamic interplay between physical bodies and inner selves.[78] Within Mustang's interpretation of Tibetan ideologies, experiences of health and illness are intricately linked to specific locales, moral ideologies, and communal actions, implying that the community's response to disability extends beyond mere physical or medical considerations.[78] The community's perceptions and assistance toward individuals with disabilities reflect deeply ingrained cultural principles and beliefs, including concepts of karma and collective obligation.[78] Such viewpoints significantly influence the lived realities of individuals with disabilities, shaping their integration, care, and the communal support they receive.

The Concept of "Nöpa" and Its Impact on Women's Bodies and Experiences

The notion of "nöpa," which encompasses ideas of pollution and impurity, exerts a significant influence on shaping cultural norms and behaviors concerning illness, adversity, and spiritual convictions in Mustang.[80] This concept holds considerable sway over women's bodies and encounters, shaping the understanding and management of certain conditions within the community. For instance, traditional beliefs may attribute particular ailments or adversities to "nöpa," thereby impacting the social and spiritual customs surrounding women's health and welfare.[80] The interaction between these cultural standards and women's health emphasizes the necessity of comprehending the cultural milieu when addressing health issues. It underscores how cultural convictions and customs regarding purity and impurity can impact women's perceptions of their bodies, their access to healthcare, and their management of health and illness.


The narratives surrounding medical pluralism, childbirth, disability, and cultural identity within the Mustangi community in New York underscore the necessity for further investigation into the experiences of immigrant populations, particularly concerning healthcare accessibility and cultural adjustment. Simultaneously, the concept of "nöpa" and its implications in terms of illness, adversity, and spiritual convictions underscore the significant influence of cultural standards on women's bodies and encounters, underscoring the necessity for a detailed comprehension of health and illness within cultural frameworks. A comprehensive understanding of how migration influences health and well-being is imperative for formulating policies and methodologies that cater to the comprehensive requirements of immigrant communities. Such research endeavors should strive to elucidate the processes through which cultural identity is preserved, negotiated, and transformed within transnational settings, offering insights into the dynamic nature of cultural adaptation.


This resource was created by the UBC Wiki Community.
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