Despite Chinese Pressure, Tibetan Performers Toured America, Europe

New York, N.Y. Tibetan performers were scheduled to arrive in the U.S. for the first time in 1975. However, with many visa problems and a number of other difficulties, this national opera tour was sadly canceled. In the autumn of 1975, the European performances my office had arranged with great difficulty over three years were also cancelled, one after another.

But then, the North American and European tour of  Tibetan Opera finally departed! The troupe was supposed to fly to Amsterdam, transferring through Athens. Yet, with 38 performers at the gate in Athens’ transit counter, the unthinkable happened.

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Starting that day, in various countries on our itinerary — such as the Netherlands and France — visas necessary for the performance were being cancelled  It turned out that the Chinese government had been working on various countries to cancel visas and performances. We were granted permission before, but now the tour was in shambles. I was going to hand them  money in Amsterdam for their meals, but they did not make it. The situation was very serious.

Then, I had an idea! I called the head of the airport tower in the Athens Airport! I thought he was the person who make final decision and could help. We spoke for forty minutes, with me pleading non-stop, desperately. “Tibetans waiting for connections are stateless people who do not have any money and only have one sheet of paper called NORI (No Objection Return India) instead of passports – what if you cannot get them on the plane !?” I threatened, cried and pleaded…

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Finally, I convinced the person and managed to get the on an plane. I immediately flew to Amsterdam, but the cancellation of the tour schedule came in one after another to my New York office, and I felt absolutely destroyed. The preparations that had taken three years to make to collapsed, one after another, in front of my eyes.

I now thought entering the U.S. was in danger! Performance in Canada were in danger! Even if all was canceled in Europe, we had to tour at least North America! 

I first I called the U.S. State Department just before 5 pm New York time and said, “Please, I want  you to send a telegram immediately this evening to the Swiss embassy. We already received 38 Indian dancers visas. They will come to give American performances, but since the European performance trip will start today, they can only visit the embassy to get a visa tomorrow morning. I do not have time, so I will ask the representative to come at 9 o’clock. Please send this telegram immediately. They will come tom morrow 9am.” I persuaded the State Department to send the telegram and the Swiss embassy got a telegram.

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At that time I was also well-known at the State Department. If famous singers or artists suddenly had to cancel a performance, I often needed to get a substitute visa urgently. I also had a relationship with the person who sent telegrams. If it was 9am in Switzerland, Washington was not yet open, so I knew the visa would be stamped.!

I then told the Tibetan representative, “Please do not tell them where you are going and  disappear instantly.” This worked! Sure enough, in the morning I received a call to my office and an officer said, “Please come back to the embassy once more because there is a problem with their visa.” I passed it in a blurred and played dumb, with a unilateral replied, “I do not know where everyone went.? I am so sorry.” 

After all, Europe’s performances were all canceled and they ended up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Switzerland for about a month. The pocket money I gave them was only about $4 per day for each person. During that time, I was asked to teach Tibetan children various matters as well as music. The troupe was so wonderful. I’m sure their cultural teaching was memorable!

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If I brought them as planned, I thought  it was certain we would hit an obstruction upon arrival at JFK International Airport. I thought about this way of saving the situation:

If I flew them from Switzerland to Canada, through Toronto, they could walk though Niagara Falls into the U.S. After entering America, seeing Niagara Falls first, we could finish their tour of Canada and then re-enter the U.S. again on foot. Once you have re-enter the U.S., the passport stamp was already in place and they had no problem re-entering. 

It all ended well, but inly through many great difficulties.

Our New York Performance was Great Success 

We performed in New York at Hunter College – and it was a great success. At that time, not even Prof. Robert Thurman’s Tibet House was not launched. This was the first time Tibetans had come to America in history.

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Even though nobody knew about Tibet and China, and the U.S. did not have diplomatic relations, from somewhere the Chinese and American anti-Tibetan groups were demonstrate every day, saying “Tibetans are savage and drinking tea from a human skull” every day.

Wherever we went, they showed up in protest demonstrations. Meanwhile, a very good article appeared in the New York Times, and we were all delightfully surprised. But it was such a painful journey for everyone involved, yet everyone tolerated it well. In the end, it was all a great success everywhere they went.

By this time, however, I was on the verge of  bankruptcy with serious financial deficits. I told myself I was doing wonderful things and managed to overcome mentally. It was only my strong will and determination that brought me through these hard times. And the Universe helped me a lot at every turn, with all of the difficulties.  

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Even now, there are many original members who are doing their best as performers. With this tour, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was very happy and created The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) as a result.

Originally published as Vol. 5 in Weekly Biz, October 14, 2017; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz

(ニューヨークビズ!)

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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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