By: Sherab Dhasel
Six months before I was born, my grandfather visited Menri Trizin Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, the thirty-third abbot of Bonpo and the head monk of Menri Monastery – also, his childhood friend. He asked Menri Trizin for his blessing and I am given my first name. Sherab ཤེས་རབ་. The sixth of the six paramitas. In Tibetan, it means wisdom. It is the endless brightness of the moon, it means ultimate knowledge. To know that all phenomena are unreal, as the difference between conscious existence and the Dreamscape are paper thin.
Not long after that, my parents forward a request to the His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama, who sends me my second name, Dhasel.
With my first and middle name already decided, my parents contemplated on what my last name should be. We are Tibetans descent from the Amdo region, Tso, meaning ocean, is a distinct Amdo name. Though Tso is not in either of my parents’ names, they wanted this to be my name very much, but, for the convenience of my parents quite recently making the move to a new country where having the same surname was uniform culture, my brother and I would take up our Father’s last name instead.
Growing up in a predominantly white school and city, to most, my name was something unintelligible and foreign. Two syllables that could simply be contorted to fit different tongues. It was pressed into molds it was never built for. It was like forcing a jigsaw piece into the wrong opening. I was constantly faced by teachers and classmates, who created a fuss over my name, and the otherness that came with it. Keeping me hyperaware of my differences. Aware that no matter how proud of my identity I was, behind every ‘could you repeat that slowly?’ and ‘what sort of name is Sherab?’ was the underlying connotation that I did not belong.
I am proud to have my name. At a young age, I refused to let the obstacle of being different stop me from mixing with my peers, but I also never accepted it. In fact, being unique was my greatest pride. Perhaps I instinctively followed the example of my parents, who never shied away from rejecting western norms.
Still, I wonder, at what age did it start that I simply put up with the flow of ignorance around me? It is in the moment you attend your first day of kindergarten, when your new teacher leans over to greet you by a name that isn’t your own. It is when you are already a freshman in highschool, and your peers still treat pronouncing your name the right way or not like a nuisance. It is the confusion that comes when you’re given a card with an englishified name on it, like ‘dear Cherub, or ‘to: Shrub. Because, me, having a non english name was apparently less likely than being named after a topiary plant or a winged baby.
I was born in the United States a second generation Tibetan American, and so, the first cultural norms I was introduced to was what made me stand out and where others chose to blend in. A reflection of white Americans being so sheltered in their bubble, were so used to their norm, that they simply did not know how to deal with people of color.
There are so many indescribable feelings, so many incidents in which society tries to put Asian Americans in the same sort of box, fecklessly, without competency, molding us to fit in their narrow comfort zone. But I know my name is not a mark of shame. I could never deign to change it, and my resolve is to exist as me – ethnically, culturally, and in every other way unique to my peers, without an ounce of apologeticness.
Sherab, in her own words: I am Amdo Tibetan growing up in America. I have lived in over 40 countries, been immersed in many cultures. My interest lies deeply in understanding the great vastness of unique individual perspective. Hobbies are astrology and other fine arts.