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The Dalai Lama Arrives
Part of MPR's special report, Ocean of Wisdom: The Dalai Lama's Visit
By Art Hughes
Minnesota Public Radio
May 7, 2001
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Hundreds of Tibetans lined a downtown Minneapolis street Monday to welcome the Dalai Lama and his motorcade as he arrived for his three-day visit to Minnesota. The exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet was greeted by local dignitaries, including Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton who called him an extraordinary man. The effort to bring the Dalai Lama to Minnesota has taken years of planning.

A crowd of Tibetan immigrants and others line the streets of downtown Minneapolis to greet the Dalai Lama, who arrived in Minneapolis on Monday.
(MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
FOUR BLOCKS OF MARQUETTE AVE. IN DOWNTOWN MINNEAPOLIS were transformed as most of the Twin Cities' Tibetan population lined up to greet the Dalai Lama. The Tibetans - wearing traditional garb, waving flags and carrying burning sticks of incense - jockeyed for sidewalk space with men and women in business suits and bike messengers in T-shirts. Lhakpa Dorjee was handing out Tibetan flags, and instructing people not to bunch up so everyone could see His Holiness as he drove by.

"I'm very happy. Not only me. All my Tibetan peoples are very happy. And very long time we see Dalai Lama," says Dorjee.

This day has taken four years to organize. One of the defining moments came more than two years ago when Marilyn Mason, then chair of the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, traveled to Dharamsala, India to hand deliver an invitation to the Dalai Lama. Mason had no guarantees of meeting with him. But she took a scrapbook filled with the faces and accomplishments of the Tibetans who came to Minnesota as part of the resettlement project in the early 1990s. Mason and three friends attended the Dalai Lama's teachings each day, and finally received word she would get an audience with him.

"He was absolutely delighted with the scrapbook. He was looking at the pictures, and he said, 'You got some of our best and some of our not-so-goods,'" says Mason. "He was filled with laughter and his true beautiful spirit in talking about that, and identifying people and really focusing, as no one does it better than his holiness."

Mason, who says she first learned of the Dalai Lama by reading an article about him in the Weekly Reader when she was 11, says meeting him was a moving experience. But she says the Buddhist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner is also very human.

Marilyn Mason, former Twin Cities resident, was a major force behind inviting the Dalai Lama to visit Minnesota. She hand-delivered the invitation to the Dalai Lama in 1999. Listen to her story.
(Photo courtesy of Marilyn Mason)
"He said, 'Now it's time for pictures.' He grabbed my hand and grabbed Phyllis' and we all joined together. And I must say I think we all felt like we were 11 or 12 years old. It was indeed a real blessing," says Mason.

The Dalai Lama's visit to the Twin Cities also creates more worldly concerns. Kevin McKenna is manager of environmental services at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Almost half of his houskeeping employees are Tibetans. He learned about the Dalai Lama's visit last August, when every Tibetan on staff turned in a vacation request for the same week - this week.

"(It was a) stack this thick. And they flat out told us, you know we're going regardless if you give us the time off or not. We're going to go see him."

McKenna says he's worked for nine months to solve the temporary staff shortage. He says managers will work some shifts, and some Tibetan staff members can work a couple of hours, go see the Dalai Lama, then come back and work a few more hours.

One of those workers, Nyima Tsamchoe, left Tibet only 12 years ago, but not before she was jailed for six months for speaking out against the Chinese who now occupy her homeland. She says if she ever returns to Tibet to see her mother and two sisters she will be killed. Tsachoe has only limited English but manages to convey what the Dalai Lama represents.

"He is really peaceful for everybody. So we are very happy," says Tsachoe.

The Tibetans waiting for the Dalai Lama's motorcade visited with each other, laughed, and took pictures. When his car appeared, the people along the street became silent, clasped their hands and bowed, almost in unison. Moments later, he'd passed and the crowd scattered.