I never knew my country was going to be grabbed by the Chinese.: Becoming Minnesotan

Tenzin Chodon, c.2005.
  • Name - Tenzin Chodon
  • Age at interview - 51
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 09.05.2005
  • Two nomad women in front of a tent, Tibet.  Photo courtesy Wangyal Ritzekura.
    Yaks for transportation, Tibet, 2003.  Photo courtesy Wangyal Ritzekura.

    The Journey

    Escape, Oppression, Tibetan

    Javascript is required to view this map.

    Essential Question

    Coming to America: What did coming to America symbolize for this person?

    The Journey: How did this person get to the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    In the 1950s the Chinese occupied Tibet and declared it as part of China.  Many Tibetans chose to flee into the neighboring countries of India or Nepal instead of having to live under the harsh Chinese government.

    Tibet is a very mountainous place where there were few roads and only certain places where people could cross the mountains to safety.  Crossing Mount Everest was especially challenging because it is one of the highest mountains in the world.  Often refugees traveled at night to avoid being seen by the Chinese, and they carried all of their things on their backs.  The only food that many had to eat was tsampa, which is roasted barley flour.  It was a dangerous journey through the snow, and many people died along the way.  

    To learn more about Tibetan history and culture, visit our Tibetan Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Tenzin Chodon 1
    3:13 Minutes | 3.1Mb


    Narrator: Tenzin Chodon (TC)

    TC:  I was like four years when we had to flee from Tibet. I took it so...I never knew my country was going to be grabbed by the Chinese. In fact, I was enjoying the journey from my native country to Nepal. We walked one month, for one month, across the Himalayas and across Mount Everest. We just walked and walked. I sort of enjoyed, you know? Yet, I mean the airplanes were flying above. I believe that was the Chinese airplanes and there were a whole line of our people. We had no other security except for a rope tied behind our chuba and all the children were led as we walked along the cliff. The children were meant to walk before the others so that when we slip...the only security we have is whoever is holding the rope at the other end. They could pull us up. That’s how...that’s the only security we had. Otherwise, so many people fell down the cliff. In the gushing river. Many old people died on the way. My dad, he survived. But all my younger ones, they sort of...they perished through starvation.

    The only thing we had was my dad is a carpenter so he made small wooden spoons and tied it around our neck and we had our own pack of, you know, tsampa, backpacks. So what my mom did was like as we were coming along, whenever this...as we walked my mom — they collected some twigs and then when she saw us hungry or crying or something she quickly made three stones and then burned the twigs and quickly made some black tea and we already had the tsampa and all quickly put that in the bowl and then have it with our wooden spoon. That was the only food we had. 

    And yet I still enjoy so being a child. My mom, dad, uncle, they all are crying so much. I said, “What?” I never saw men crying, especially my dad. And they looked so sad.  However, that’s — still I never thought that the Chinese — we were leaving our country for good. Anyhow, that was my escape. Until we reached Nepal.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  A long Tibetan coat.

    Listen to this word: 


    VerbTo run away; to escape.  (flees, fleeing, fled)


    Adjective:  Flowing suddenly or violently.


    Noun:  A mountain range of south-central Asia extending about 2,414 km (1,500 mi) through Kashmir, northern India, southern Xizang (Tibet), Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan; includes nine of the world’s ten highest peaks, including Mount Everest.

    Mount Everest

    Noun:  The world’s highest mountain, located in the Himalayas between Nepal and Tibet.


    Adjective:  Belonging to something by birth.


    Verb:  To die.  (perishes, perishing, perished)


    Noun:  Roasted barley flour, a Tibetan staple foodstuff.

    Listen to this word: 


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 19