By PETER SMITH
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Kunga Norbu grew up in Bloomington, Ind., half a world away from the native Tibetan village of his father and world-famous uncle, the Dalai Lama.
But a passion for his ancestral land after decades of Chinese rule burns fiercely in Norbu’s American-accented voice. “We don’t even have a country now,” said Norbu, who just completed the latest of several multistate walks _ between Washington, D.C., and New York _ to draw attention to Tibet. “You can’t even practice religion, let alone carry a picture of the Dalai Lama. … It’s basically genocide.”
Norbu spoke with the media on Friday at the Drepung Gomang Institute, a Buddhist temple in St. Matthews that the Dalai Lama is scheduled to bless during a three-day visit to Louisville starting Sunday.
The normally quiet temple was bustling with activity in the background. Volunteers were painting religious symbols on the driveway. Monks were preparing ceremonial food offerings. Strings of Tibetan flags and prayer banners festooned the grounds.
Norbu was helping to promote a Tibetan Freedom concert Monday night at the Brown Theatre, featuring Lexington cellist-singer Ben Sollee, Tibetan flutist Nawang Khechog and others.
It will be the first such concert in Louisville, organizers said, but the musicians are taking up the mantle of those who for years have drawn attention to the Tibetan cause through awareness-raising concerts in other cities.
Advocates for Tibet say hundreds of thousands have been killed by violence and famine under more than a half-century of Chinese rule. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says religious-liberty conditions in Tibet are at their worst in the past decade, with imprisonments and increased government oversight of monasteries.
The U.S. State Department cites “severe repression” including “extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests” and abuses.
The gravity of the situation has been underscored by more than 100 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire since 2011, calling for a free Tibet and a return of the Dalai Lama.
Norbu said the acts, while shocking, show their desperation.
He disputes Chinese media attempts to disparage them as seeking hero status.
“I know my people,” he told The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/13COlt6 ). “They don’t need to be heroes.”
Like the Dalai Lama, Norbu’s own father was recognized as a high-ranking Buddhist incarnation by religious authorities and later fled Tibet amid Chinese repression.
His father, Thubten J. Norbu, eventually came to America, became a professor at Indiana University and founded what is now called the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington.
Kunga Norbu recalled that the brothers disagreed on the best approach to China, with the Dalai Lama willing to accept Chinese sovereignty if it would honor local Tibetan autonomy and human rights.
But Thubten Norbu, “from the day he fled Tibet to the day he died, was always carrying on the movement for `ranzen,’ total independence,” Kunga Norbu said.
The brothers always cooperated and professed their love for each other amid that disagreement, he said.
Thubten Norbu regularly went on multistate walks to raise attention for the Tibetan cause. After his death in 2008, Kunga Norbu’s brother, Jigme, led similar walks until he was struck and killed by a vehicle during one such event in Florida in 2011.
Now Kunga Norbu is leading the cause.
“Luckily, I was born in the United States, I was educated here,” he said. “I can say whatever I want to say.”
He said it’s gratifying to see places such as the Drepung Gomang Institute preserving Tibet’s heritage, but he laments that it’s necessary as Tibetans are displaced in their ancestral homeland by an increasing influx of ethnic Chinese settlers.
Khechog agreed, saying his family comes from a nomadic background that is under attack as Chinese restrict their movements and their use of yaks, the livestock they traditionally depend on.
Tibet’s freedom, he said, “is our birthright.”
Sollee, who toured Tibet in 2007 on a State Department-organized concert tour, said that while he had only limited direct interactions with the people, he felt a kinship with them.
“It felt like they were people that were trying to hold on as long as they could,” he said.
“There were a lot of forces that were against them. It reminded me a lot of Appalachia in a lot of ways.”
Information about tickets for the Tibetan Freedom concert and the Dalai Lama’s public talks can be found at www.dalai¡lama¡louis¡ville.org.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
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By PETER SMITH