Nyima Dorjee Interview,
by Ethan Chen
My conversation with Nyima Dorjee took place on May 1, 2022 at the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago’s weekly Sunday school event. Nyima was born in Tibet, but he left his birth country as an adolescent, trekking through the Himalayan Mountains to enter Nepal. In 1987, he moved to India, and in 2007, he flew to New York and later Chicago. With his wife, Nyima raises his nine-year-old daughter and four-year old son. Before becoming a school nurse, Nyima worked as a Hibachi chef. He now comes to the TAC every Sunday with his daughter, who attends the center’s Tibetan language and culture classes.
Right from the start of our interview, I could tell that Nyima had a sense of humor. When asked about his thoughts on Chicago, he chuckled, saying, “Chicago is expensive for no reason. When I argue with other Illinois people … they always [say] we have a Michigan Lake, [and] that’s why the city is expensive. But I tell them we only enjoy four months … [and] pay tax[es] for a whole year.”
My conversation with Nyima soon transitioned to a more personal topic of community. He share that while Chicago’s Tibetan community is small, they “are very close bonded.” For Nyima, this bond is best displayed at the TAC’s weekly Sunday school. He routinely attends this event with his children. He shared that “the kids would complain if [I] d[id]n’t… expose them to [their] own culture … [they] might [place] blame on me.” Nyima proceeded to talk about his goals for his daughter as they related to Sunday school. He passionately stated, “I just want her to experience this [Tibetan] culture and religion. Later, she can choose whatever she wants. She want[s] a hotdog, or she want[s] a momo, it’s up to her.”
I told Nyima that I had attended the Panchen Lama’s birthday party at the TAC. However, to Nyima, this night was not one of celebration. Instead, it was one of remembrance. He said that the “Panchen Lama’s birthday is not really a celebration because he’s still in prison. It was more like a reminder for you… to fight for his will. … He was the youngest political prisoner. He’s still in prison [while] [you’re] eating cake.”
Near the end of our conversation, Nyima shared his views on the American education system, saying, “You know in America… the teacher will teach you, ‘me first.’ You think for others, somebody will step over you and go ahead of you … But in Tibetan society, it’s [the] opposite … it’s a ‘we.’” This sentiment of “we” was at the heart of the Tibetan community center. Members of the TAC welcomed me as one of their own, generously offering me curried chicken and buns at the Panchen Lama’s birthday and biscuits and croissants at Sunday school. They always embraced my presence, ensuring that I felt included during the community events.