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How Did the Dalai Lama First Get into America?

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The Tibetan community is far larger and visible today than it was 40 years ago.  Back in 1978, there were less than 200 Tibetans living in the United States.  Two of them were Dorje Lama of San Francisco and Tenzin N. Tethong who lived in New York and had the title of Special Representative of His Holiness at the United Nations.

The Dalai Lama had been invited to speak at Brown, Columbia, Harvard and other university venues in 1978, but was denied a visa by the State Department because President Jimmy Carter did not want to irritate China.

I had met Dorje-la at his iconic Tibet Shop in San Francisco in the early 1970s.  Then he was only one of seven Tibetans living in the Bay Area that now has over 3,000 residing there.  When we first met, I was a judge on the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the only government official who was Dorje-la’s friend.  In 1978 Dorje-la called me and asked if I could speak to Tenzin about a visa problem that I might help solve.

During the phone call with Tenzin Tethong, I learned the problem was that there was no “official” government invitation to His Holiness so that was the excuse to deny his visa.  I then spoke with the Governor of New Hampshire who graciously on his letterhead invited His Holiness to visit our state on behalf of the people of New Hampshire.  A few months later, the State Department yielded because of that official invitation and a visa was finally issued for the 1979 visit.

In gratitude for my help, Tenzin and Dorje-la arranged for me to have a private audience with the Dalai Lama at Harvard.  While I did not give His Holiness a traditional white scarf I did provide something more in keeping with the Granite State — a jar of apple jelly from Gould Hill Farm in Hopkinton.  Tenzin, His Holiness and I talked about Tibet, whether His Holiness should return, his safety and other topics without the minder or State Department interpreter being allowed.

I will remember the grace and peace of the Dalai Lama forever and I am glad I could play a role in his record-breaking first visit to the United States to spread the word of Tibetan oppression.

Mr. Douglas is a longtime supporter of the Tibetan cause and is a former New Hampshire Congressman and Supreme Court judge.