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Tibetan Buddhist Arts
Madison, WI

Venerable Ngawang Chojor and Brad PittDid you ever see the movie Seven Years in Tibet? Venerable Ngawang was in that movie! He played the Lord Chancellor. Here’s a photo of him with the lead actor, Brad Pitt.

Tibet has a very long history and the movie Seven Years in Tibet shows a small part of it. Tibet was a separate country for centuries. In the 1950s, China took over Tibet. In 1959, the religious leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, fled to India. Ven. Ngawang and many thousands of other Tibetans left, too. They lived as refugees in India or other countries.

Tibetans in Wisconsin

In the 1990s, the United States allowed 1,000 Tibetans living in exile in India to immigrate here. Many American Buddhists helped Tibetan refugees settle in Wisconsin and other parts of the country. Like other immigrants, these newcomers learned English, found work and sent their children to school. Now they’re Wisconsinites who live in a new culture and keep parts of their old culture too.

Ven. Ngawang first came to Wisconsin in 1993. Part of his new culture is that he lives in a house with his niece, her husband and children instead of living in a monastery. He has a job in Madison sewing canvas objects like bags and banners, instead of sewing ritual objects and clothing for other monks.

Tibetans in Wisconsin work hard to preserve important parts of their Tibetan culture. Many Tibetans and their friends worry that Tibetan culture will disappear if Tibet stays a part of China. They don’t want Tibetan culture to die, so they teach their children and other people about Tibet’s art, religion, history, and traditions. 

Keeping Culture

Ven. Ngawang works to preserve Tibetan culture in different ways. Making mandalas for cultural demonstrations is one important way. Being in Seven Years in Tibet was another, because that movie helped tell part of Tibet’s story to thousands of people. 

Ven. Ngawang also helps to preserve Tibetan culture by being a leader in the Wisconsin Tibet Association. This group hosts Tibetan New Year celebrations and many other gatherings. It organizes a culture school for Tibetan-American children so they can learn the Tibetan language. It supports a traditional dance troupe for Tibetan-American high school youth. It sponsors a soccer team, the Madison Yakboys, who play against other Midwestern Tibetan soccer teams.

Many Tibetans and their friends are trying to make Tibet its own country again. They try to free Tibet by using peaceful means because nonviolence is an important part of the Buddhist religion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent efforts to free Tibet.

Cultures change for lots of different reasons, sometimes because of political changes. When China took over Tibet, Tibetan culture changed in many ways. Ven. Ngawang lives with those changes while trying to keep his culture alive. He uses his art to do that.

Learn More!

Most Tibetans in the Midwest live in Madison, Wisconsin; St. Paul, Minnesota; or Chicago, Illinois. If you live near one of these cities, look for announcements about Tibetan events. You would be welcome to attend many of them. If you don’t live near one of those places, you can still find out more about Tibet, Tibetan culture, and Tibetan-Americans. Just go to Resources for Students.

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