by Baatar Tsend
Mongolia is a large landlocked country, 604,100 sq. miles (1,566,000 sq km.), in area about three times the size of France, over twice the size of the state of Texas, and almost as large as Queensland, Australia. It is located in Northeastern Asia, south of Siberia and north of China and borders with Russia on the north and the People’s Republic of China on the south. Mongolia is a land of extremes. It is so far inland that no sea moderates the climate. Only in summer does cloud cover shield the sky. There is very little humidity in Mongolia, but the sunshine is intense. With over 260 sunny days a year, Mongolia is justifiably known as the “Land of Blue Sky.” It is also known as the “Land of Chinggis Khan.” Until the twentieth century, Mongolia was about twice its present size. A large portion of Siberia was once part of Mongolia but is now securely controlled by Russia, and Inner Mongolia is now firmly a part of China.
Mongols are people with an ancient and glorious history. They constitute one of the principal ethnic divisions of the Asian peoples. In fact, the race of the Asian peoples is known as “mongoloid.” Throughout the world there is a birth mark famous as the “Mongolian spot.” It is a blue birthmark on the buttock, and it shows up right after a child is born.
Mongolia, the only independent state of Mongolians, has a population of 2.4 million. The great majority (about 85 percent) of Mongolians are Khalkh Mongols. About 10 percent are members of other Mongol confederations and tribes (Barga, Bayad, Buriad, Dariganga, Darkhad, Khoton, Myangad, Oold, Torguud, Tsaatan, Tuva, Uriankhai, Uzemchin, Zakhchin), and 5 percent are of Kazakh, Russian, Chinese, Korean, or other descent.
More Mongolians live outside of Mongolia than in it—about 3.5 million in China, while in Russia Kalmyk Mongolians number about 175,000 and Buriat Mongolians about 425,000. Many people of Mongolian origin also live in Central Asia, India, some parts of Canada, Europe and in the United States.
The country’s capital is Ulaanbaatar; the Mongolian flag is red and blue with a golden soyombo. The Golden Soyombo, the national symbol of Mongolia which dates back at least to the 14th century, signifies freedom and independence. The national language is Mongolian.
Mongolia is one of the world’s oldest nomadic civilizations. Archeological digs have uncovered human remains in the Gobi and other regions dating back nearly 500,000 years. Agriculture seems to have preceded nomadic herding of animals, and despite Mongolia’s short summers, wheat growing has coexisted with nomadic life for thousands of years. It was only after the Mongols tamed horses, yaks and camels that they took to a nomadic herding lifestyle.
Early Chinese manuscripts refer to ‘Turkicspeaking peoples’ living in what we now call Mongolia as early as the fourth or fifth century B.C. The name ‘Mongol’ was first recorded by the Chinese during the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D. ). At that time, Mongolia was dominated by the Uighurs. The Uighurs continued to control most of Mongolia until 840 A.D. The defeat of the Uighurs created a vacuum, which was filled by the Kitans, a Mongol tribe from what is now north-east China. By the tenth century, the Kitans had control of most of Manchuria, eastern Mongolia and much of China north of the Yellow River. The Kitans continued warring with other Mongol tribes, most significantly with the western Xi, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Kitan empire was finally defeated in 1122 A.D.
The Mongols and other nomadic peoples of northern Asia seldom united and had little inclination to do so; they preferred to be nomadic, widely scattered over great areas, frequently on the move with their animals in search of pasture. They wanted to live as separate clans, united only in the face of a common threat.
Until the end of the twelfth century, the Mongols were little more than a loose confederation of rival clans. In 1182, a 20-year-old Mongol named Temujin rose to power to become the leader of the Borjigin Mongol clan, and later managed to unite all the Mongol tribes and founded a united Mongol state. In 1206 he was given the honorary name of Chinggis Khan, meaning ‘universal (or oceanic) king’. He would soon conquer adjacent lands and later set up a vast empire that covered most of Asia and Europe. By the time of his death in 1227, the Mongol empire extended from Beijing to the Caspian Sea. Power passed into the hands of Chinggis’ favorite son, Ogedei, who continued this program of military conquest. His generals pushed as far west as Hungary and were all set to invade Western Europe when Ogedei died. Mongol custom dictated that all noble defendants of Chinggis had to return to Mongolia to democratically elect a new Khan (king). Chinggis’ grandson, Khubilai Khan (circa 1216-1294), completed the subjugation of China, effectively ending the Song dynasty (960-1269). He became the emperor in China, the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 ). Khubilai established his winter capital in Tatu (‘great capital’, M. Khan Balgasun), today’s Beijing. After Kublai Khan died in 1294, the Mongols became increasingly dependent on the people they ruled. The Mongol empire not only strongly influenced the emergence of a united Russian state but it also contributed to reversing the disintegration process in China and laying the foundations of a united China. By the 1350s, Mongol rule began to disintegrate. They were expelled from Beijing by the first emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). A major civil war occurred from 1400 to 1450 between wto main groups, the Khalkha in the east and the Oirad in the west. A revival of sorts occurred under Altan Khan (1507-83), who united the Khalkha, defeated the Oirad and brought most of Mongolia under his control. After the death of Altan Khan, Mongolia reverted to a collection of tiny tribal domains. Meanwhile, the Manchus, ancient enemies of the Mongols, established the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
In 1911 China’s last dynasty, the Qing, crumbled. Mongolian independence from China was declared on 1 December 1911. On 25 May 1915, the Treaty of Kyakhta, granting Mongolia limited autonomy, was signed by Mongolia, China and Russia. In July 1921, the People’s Government of Mongolia was declared. Until 1990, Mongolia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. It had Soviet style political and economic institutions. In 1990, Mongolia became a free and democratic country with a multi-party parliamentarian system under a president.
THE FIRST MONGOLIANS IN THE UNITED STATES
Few Mongolians came to the United States between 1948 and 1949. Those who did were immigrants from Inner Mongolia. The first Mongolians to come to the United States were Gombojob Hangin and Urgunge Onon. Hangin was a native of Tsakhar, Inner Mongolia and Onon was a native of Daguur, also Inner Mongolia. They came with their families in 1948 to join Owen Lattimore’s program in East Asian Affairs at Johns Hopkins University. The Mongolian immigration to the United States continued following the arrests of high-ranking lamas, a purge which began in 1935. At that time some lamas left Mongolia for India. The first Mongolian lama to immigrate to the United States was the living Buddha, Dilowa Gegen Khutukhtu. He was a Khalkha Mongol, who formerly headed a ministry in Mongolia. He came to the United States in 1949 as a political refugee, and also joined Owen Lattimore’s the Mongolia Project.
SIGNIFICANT IMMIGRATION WAVES
Mongolians from Europe began to immigrate to the United States in 1951-1952. This large group was the Kalmyk Mongols. The Kalmyks (Western Mongolian), who took up residence on the East Coast of the U.S., had been living in Europe, more precisely, in the Don-Volga region, where they have had state structure since the beginning of the seventeenth century, around 370 years. The Russian Revolution in 1917 brought further changes. During that time, close to 2,000 Kalmyks fled from Russia by way of the Black Sea ports. After debarking in Turkey, they traveled to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, and some further dispersed into Czechoslovakia and France. In 1945, after the capitulation of Germany, during the years of her political and economical bankruptcy and anarchy, Kalmyk immigrants went through the most difficult times in their lives. After five years of living in the refugee camps, old (since 1920) and new (since 1943-1945) Kalmyk immigrants were in a desperate situation.
In 1950 and 1951, with the help of American friends, the Kalmyk representation was able to found the “Special Committee on the Kalmyk Immigration Affairs.” On August 31, 1951, the U.S. Congress passed a law granting Kalmyks the rights to immigrate as Europeans. Between December of 1951 and March of 1952, 571 Kalmyks arrived in the United States. Additional families and individuals arrived later. There are approximately 1000 Kalmyks in the United States, of which 300 are from the Astrakhan area. They are primarily from the Dorvet clan with a few Torgut—and the remainder are Buzava.
The third Mongolian wave to immigrate to this country came in small numbers (between 150-200). In 1965 the United States accorded an equal quota to Asian immigrants via the Immigration and Naturalization Act Amendments. Those from Mongolia and Inner Mongolia as well as western Mongols from Sinkiang and Khukhe-Nuur and those in exile in India and Taiwan came at this time (between 1965 and 1975). For example, among those Mongols immigrating to the United States at this time were the professors, Jagchid Sechen, a Kharcin Mongol and Unen Sechen, a Khorchin Mongol, both of whom had fled to Taiwan. There were also famous lamas who came from India. Jambaldorj, Choijo, Yondonjamps, Gombojab and Jamps, for example. They came from Dharmasala, India, and were nominated by the Dalai Lama.
The most recent Mongol immigrants, those from Mongolia, the Republic of Kalmykia and Buriat, came after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. They came to study and for economic reasons. There are no accurate immigration statistics on the most recent wave of immigration. Numbering about 1,500-2000, this group includes both family units and single individuals covering a full range of ages. According to the census, the total population of Mongols in the United States now stands at about 3,500.
The first Mongolian immigrants settled around Baltimore, Maryland, and New York City and then moved to the other cities. Kalmyk Mongol immigrants settled in Lakewood and Freewood Acres, New Jersey in a section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The International Refugee Organization made a special grant to several social service groups, notably the Tolstoy Foundation and the Church World Service, on behalf of the Kalmyk Mongolians, to jointly sponsor efforts to help them find a home. The other group is located in an older section of north central Philadelphia, were successive waves of first-generation immigrants have settled from colonial times until the present day. There are also several families living in New Brunswick and Paterson, New Jersey, and in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Since the time they immigrated, the Kalmyk Mongol community has not risen too much. Today there are still only about 1,000 Kalmyks in the United States. Some continue to live in Lakewood and Freewood Acres, New Jersey and in sections of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many of them have moved away. This was started in the 1970s. They are now settled in New York, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California. Mongol-American communities of recent immigrants are settled in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New Jersey.
Acculturation and Assimilation
The Mongolian American community still retains its heritage. Most Mongolian American families strive to preserve traditional Mongolian values and transmit these to their children. The social interaction that does occur with the host culture is primarily a result of the necessary participation of Mongolians in economic and politico-administrative institutions. In essence, these communities mitigate the shock of transition into a foreign culture, and they also prolong the period of acculturation. The younger generation has been educated in American schools, exposed daily to the media, and interact more frequently than their parents and grandparents with Americans. Young Mongolians are increasingly abandoning many aspects of their ethnic heritage and are adopting more Americanized attitudes and behavior. This can be seen in the greater frequency of interracial dating and marriage, the adoption of Americanized standards of beauty and fashion, and the gradual disintegration of Mongolian families and communities. This, however, is not a simple process of exchanging one heritage for another, nor is it a process which is common to all second and third generation Mongolians. The price exacted from these young people for the transition often entails a high level of disorganization and the complete abandonment of their own cultural heritages.
Mongolian Americans are professionals, others own small businesses, do construction or are employed as semi- or non-skilled workers. Mongolians enjoy relatively high standards of living, attain levels of education, and are well employed. However, most Mongolians are willing to work within a American framework.
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
Assimilation for Mongolian American immigrants has been difficult, often causing them to become more attached to the traditions of their homeland. The Mongolian Americans’ sense of art is closely related to their mystic sense of identity with nature. Humanity, nature, and art constitute an unbroken continuity. Artistic expression in Mongolian art is particularly evident in their dress. Traditionally, Mongolian Americans believe in astrology and consider certain days in the year more conducive to the conclusion of business deals or to the purchase of new houses or cars and marriage. They turn to astrology on important days like the beginning of a new job, the commencement of college, or birth of a child. Mongolians use a lunar calendar and have adopted the Chinese zodiac with its 12 animal signs. This is also a very important thing in Mongolian Americans’ lives. The beautiful Mongolian landscape abounds with an ecological wonder that is expressed in song and dance, which expresses the varied lives on the Mongolian steppes. Many Mongolians practice Western arts, from oil painting to metal sculpture, the subjects of which are often inspired by Mongolian life and traditions. The literary arts are also popular. Early Mongolian literature consisted largely of local folk tales and traditional religious stories. The Secret History of the Mongols, Mongolia’s most famous book has no known author. This heroic epic of the Mongols—historic texts of war and feuding, myths of origin, administrative manuals of empire, diplomatic histories of hordes and dynasties and biographies of great Khans—were all first committed to writing over 760 years ago.
The greatest scholar on Mongolian studies, professor Francis W. Cleaves said ” The Secret History of Mongols is not only the capital monument of thirteenth century Mongolian Literature, but it is one of the great literary monuments of the world.”
The Mongols’ most famous epic is Djangar. This heroic oral-epic literature was found about 560 years ago in Western Mongolia. Also, all Mongolian people, no matter what their tribal affiliation or where they came from, know and admire the writings of the modern Mongolian authors D. Natsagdorg and Ch. Chimid, especially their most famous works, Minii Nutag (My Native Land) and Bi Mongol Khung (I am Mongolian).
Most of the Mongols’ traditional dishes continue to be part of Mongolian Americans’ cuisine today although in many instances they are served only on ceremonial occasions. The most popular food continues to be Mongolian tea, which is now made from an infusion of tea, evaporated milk, nutmeg and butter. It is used as a ceremonial drink as well, and it is served at most rites. Boortsag or borts’k, the small cakes made of flour, water and yeast and fried in oil, are still made, but primarily for use at various ceremonials and rites. Makhan, made from lamb in the traditional way—that is boiled in water, cut up into pieces and mixed with fresh cut onions and a little shulen (the lamb stock) and rewarmed—is also prepared on festive occasions. Guriltai shul or budan, a stew of lamb meat or beef, water and flour, and bulmuk, a gravy like dish of broth and flour, are also still prepared. Tarag or chigan —fermented cow’s milk—is at present made and drunk primarily by the older people. It is felt to have great therapeutic value and is believed to insure a long life. Another most popular dish is Buuz or varenk, made from beef and flour especially steamed mutton dumplings. Khuushuur, made from beef and flour and fried in oil, are still made but also primarily for use at various ceremonies and rites. These dietary customs are usually observed by Mongolian Americans during holidays and special events in the United States. For everyday meals, Mongols have readily adapted American food and drink.
HOLIDAYS AND CULTURAL EVENTS
Despite their ethnic diversity, there are several major holidays that virtually all Mongolian Americans observe. Mongolians have been celebrating Tsagaan Sar (White Month) for thousands of years, although it may have been held during the summer (possibly in August) when Chinggis Khaan was roaming the steppes. Now held over three days at the start of the lunar new year (in end of January or start of February), Tsagaan Sar celebrates the end of winter and the start of spring. During the Tsagaan Sar, Zolgokh is the traditional greeting. Rather like shaking hands in the West, the younger person places his or her forearms under those of the elder person.
The next group-wide ceremony in the annual cycle is the combined celebration of Urus-Ova, which is now celebrated for convenience on the first weekend after the commencement of the first month of summer to permit greater lay participation. This ceremony commemorates Shagja-muni or the Buddha, and the yearly celebration which took place at the oboo, or shrines, to placate malicious spirits.
The third major ceremony celebrated in much in the same manner as it was traditionally celebrated is the ritual of Zul or Zula (Lamp), which takes place in the middle of winter on the 25th day of the month of Ukher (cow). People still recall that it marks the passing on to the next world of Tsong-Kha-Pa, the great religious reformer.
The Kalmyk Mongolians have proclaimed “Kalmyk Day,” a day in which all are invited to come and see on exhibit all types of artifacts, literature, movies and Kalmyk song and dance performances, to see first hand Kalmyk Mongolian culture
and history. Mongolian Americans have to celebrate annual “Chinggis Khan Ceremony.” It was the wish of the founders of the Mongol-American Cultural Association to celebrate this ancient ceremony, so that the current and future generations of Mongolian Americans would have the opportunity to observe and participate in this ancient tradition. Also Mongolian Americans were celebrated at the Mongolian Cultural Celebration. Another Mongolian national holiday is Naadam Festival, which is from July 11 to July 13. It is also known as the eriin gurban naadam, after the three ‘manly’ sports of wrestling, archery and horse racing. On this day, along with officials in the Mongolian Embassy and Mongolians in the United States, all people are invited to celebrate along with Mongolian officials in a ceremony and reception.
Mongolian Americans wear western-style clothes, but on some special celebration days they wear traditional Mongolian clothes. The main garment is the del , a long, one-piece gown made from wool. The del has a high collar, is often brightly colored, comes with a multipurpose sash. Mongolians, but not untrained westerners, can differentiate ethnic groups by the color, the design and shape of their del. The gutul is a high boot made from thin leather. They are easy to fit, as both the left and right boot are the same shape. The Mongolian traditional hat is known as the decorative toortsog and loovuz . The loovuz is made from fox skins.
MUSIC AND DANCE
Traditional music involves a wide range of instruments and uses the human voice in a way found almost nowhere else. The khoomi singing of Mongolia, in which carefully trained male voices produce a whole harmonic from deep in the throat, gives the impression of several notes coming at once from one mouth. It is often sung solo, but when combined with fiddles, lutes, zithers, drums and other python-skin, bamboo, metal, stone and clay instruments, one begins to understand the centrality of music in Mongolian life. The instrument most identified with Mongolia is arguably the horse-head fiddle, known as the morin khuur . It has two strings, made from horse hair, with the distinctive and decorative carving of a horse’s head on top. Traditionally, the morin khuur often accompanies the unique long songs which regale the beauty of the countryside and relive tales of nomadism.
Some Mongolian music, particularly instrumental music, is intended specifically to accompany dancing. Mongolian dance includes a number of kinds of group folk dance similar to round dancing and square dancing; these might be performed by groups of men, groups of women, or groups of mixed couples. These dances are called bujig . The most typical Mongolian dance form, however, is the bii or biyelgee, “upper-body dance,” a dance normally performed by women. Accordingly, leg movements are restricted or entirely absent; some forms of biyelgee are performed in a sitting or kneeling position. The dance consists of intricate, rhythmic movements of the head, shoulders, arms, and upper torso; some dancers display their skill by dancing with bowls of tea or a rag balanced on their wrists, elbows, and heads. Today, the Kalmyk American Dance Ensemble is held in Howell, New Jersey.
MONGOLIAN STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES
In recent years Mongolian young people have immigrated to the United States to attend American colleges or graduate schools. Afterward, many choose to apply for permanent residency or for citizenship. Presently, about 80 percent of the Mongolians residing in the United States are between the ages of 18 and 35. The number of Mongolian students in the United States has grown steadily since 1990. Recent numbers show Mongolian students are attending colleges and universities in about 30 states. The successful personal adjustments and academic achievements of these students are decided by mainly two factors: language efficiency and the ability to adjust to American society. While some of them return to Mongolia, many choose to continue their professional pursuits. Mongolian students pursue careers in medicine, business, computer sciences, bio-technology, engineering, administration, law, and social sciences. Young people from Kalmykia, Buriat and Inner Mongolia have also immigrated to the United States to attend American colleges and graduate schools. The American Government, Mongol-American Cultural Association, and family already settled in the United States help Mongolian students get scholarships and to get adjusted to their new country.
Most Mongolian Americans accept the role of modern medicine and pay careful attention to health matters. Nevertheless, as noted below in connection with the religious aspects of medical treatment, the services of the Tibetan-trained religious medical practitioners (the emch ) and of the other clerics are often utilized in concert with western medical science, or sometimes as a last resort. The emch’s herbal remedies are still employed by some, primarily the elderly. The dietary advice, blessed water and special prayers of the other clerics is also sought. Diagnosis and treatment is based on the five vital elements of earth, water, fire, wind and wood. Medicines are often made from herbs, plants, mineral water and organs from unfortunate animals, and administered according to the weather, season and individual’s metabolism. Acupuncture, massage and blood-letting, as well as prayers, are also important factors. All Mongolian Americans know Cheojey lama from Sunud, Mongolia. He is a famous practitioner of folk medicine. He has approximately 30 people practicing the art of folk medicine in America. He died in 1990, but his students continue to practice.
Mongolian is not a single language, but rather a group of closely related languages spoken by the various tribes that make up the Mongolian people. The Mongolian languages are usually considered to belong to four groups: 1) Central Mongolian, including Khalkha (Mongolia), Ordos, Chakhar (Inner Mongolia); 2) Eastern Mongolian, including various Khorchin, Kharchin, Jalaid, Gorlos, Ar Khorchin, Baarin, Naiman, and Onniud. Eastern Mongolian dialects are popular in Inner Mongolian; 3) Northern Mongolian, including various Buriad, Barga, Khamnigan, and Soloon (Mongolian, Russian, Inner Mongolian); 4) Southern Mongolian, including various Mongolian Oirad (Durvet, Bayad, Zakhchin, Torgued, Uriankhai, Uuld), Kirgiz, Xinjiangian Torguud, Khoshuud, Uuld, Uriankhai and Russian Kalmyks (Torguud, Buzava, Durvet), American and France Kalmyk (Buzava, Torguud, Durvet), Chinese Alasha (province), Torguud, Kheisi, Khenanian (province), Khoshuud, Kheisi, Qinkhai (province) Tsoros, Gangsu, Khenianian (province), and Uuld.
The Mongolian languages belong to the Uralic-Altaic language family, named for the Ural Mountains of Russia and the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. Spread by ancient migrations and the conquests of the Mongol Empire itself, the Uralic-Altaic language family is large and diverse; it includes among others Korean and Japanese, Turkish, Finish, and Hungarian. All of these languages are characterized by a highly inflected grammar, meaning that grammatical structure is indicated by prefixes, suffixes, vowel shifts, and other changes of words within a sentence. In the early thirteenth century the Mongols adopted a script from the Turik Uighurs which is used by many of the Mongolians even today. In 1941 the Government of Mongolia adopted a phonetic alphabet derived from a modified Cyrillic script. Today both scripts can be used. Kalmyk Mongolians are versed in the Zaya Pandita script (Todo Mongol) and Mongolian script.
GREETINGS AND OTHER POPULAR EXPRESSIONS
Some common expressions in the Mongolian language include: Tiim (“Yes”); Ugui (“No”); Bayarlaa/Gyalailaa (“Thanks”); Uuchlaarai (“I’m sorry/Excuse me”); Yuu genee? (“Sorry?” or “What did you say?”; Khun guai! (“Excuse me, sir/madam!”); Sain baina uu? (literally, “How are you?”); Sain ta sain baina uu? (“Fine”); Bayartai (“Goodbye”); and Za (“Okay”).
Family and Community Dynamics
Mongolian Americans family ties are very strong, and it is considered the responsibility of more prosperous members to look after their less well-to-do relatives. Mongolian parents tend to frown upon the practice of dating, although they are slowly yielding to their offspring’s demands to be allowed to do so. The preference is still the selection of a marriage partner from within the origin of the Mongolian community and with the full approval and consent of the parents. Family or community members are often involved in the selection of a suitable mate. The family and educational backgrounds of the potential partner are throughly examined before introductions are made. Although intermarriage is not uncommon between Mongolians and Americans, many Mongolian Americans believe that their children will be happier if they are married to someone who shares the same history, tradition, religion, and social customs and who will be able to impart these values to their children, thus ensuring the continuity of the community. They believe that such marriages made within the community tend to be more stable and longer lasting than those that cross community borders. The traditional Mongolian American household is a patriarchy in which the head of the household is the eldest male. The principal roles of the wife are to keep house and raise the children. The children have a duty to honor their parents and respect their wishes.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
Traditionally, Mongolian American women have the responsibility of preserving the memories, customs, and traditions of the Mongolian homeland. A women’s first obligation is to be a good wife and raise a family. Girls have not been allowed as much freedom as boys and were not encouraged “to go out.” Instead, girls have been kept at home and taught domestic skills. Girls were sent through high school and encouraged to pursue higher education and a career. After graduation and before marriage, women have often helped with the family business. Mongolian women are usually married between the ages of 22 and 26. Today many Mongolian American women feel caught between worlds. They often feel obligated to conform to the standards and mores of their community but, at the same time, are pressured to “Americanize.” However, many Mongolian American women have pursued higher education and careers outside the home.
Traditionally, before marriage the most important thing is accounts. Accounts of the Mongolians from their earliest period to the recent past contain a great deal of information regarding the marriage institution. Even the small fragments of the ancient Tsaadiin Bichik (Ugiin Bichig ), which has come down to us from the period of the first Oirad federation in the fifteenth century contains, of its eighth provisions, four provisions relating to the fines to be exacted when adultery was committed with the wife of a prince, with an ordinary man’s wife, with a female slave and with the concubine of a priest. Marriage, with its rites and ceremonies, provides a second but non-cyclical focal point for the intensification of social interaction among the Mongolians
in America today. It involves a complex series of formal visits and gift exchanges extending over a period of time and leading up to the marriage rite and beyond. It provides a continuing focus of activity not only for the two families directly involved but also to close and distant relations, and certain events may involve practically the entire Mongolian group. The date which will be presented will show the historical depth and continuity of many of the aspects of this institution as well as its continuing and central importance in Mongolian American life. The account of the rites and ceremonies that are involved in marriage today will also provide examples of the way in which changes and accommodations have been made, particularly in the realm of material objects—new items being equated with and replacing old ones and new content being injected into the traditional patterns which maintain their continuity.
Mongolian Americans have always followed Buddhism of the Tibetan (Lama) variety faithfully. Shortly after their arrival in the United States, the Kalmyk Mongols began the reconstruction of their religious system. Only 20 priests, a few less than the total number who had emigrated from Russia during the first and second waves of immigration, came to settle in America. All of these priests were over 60 years of age and represented primarily the higher ranks in the traditional ecclesiastical hierarchy. Until his death, the highest ranking cleric was not a Kalmyk but rather a Khalkha Mongol, the Living Buddha, Dilowa Gegen Khutukhtu, who was deferred to in all religious matters and was the final authority in religious decisions. Through he lived in Baltimore, he participated frequently in rituals and ceremonies in Freewood Acres and in Philadelphia and had a residence in one of the religious establishments in Freewood Acres and also in New York. However, several priests have been sent from India by the Dalai Lama to augment the dwindling number of priests. The physical plans of these religious establishments are essentially similar and include a place of worship which is furnished with a multitude of thankas or Tibetan religious pictures, flowers, satin banners, prayer flags and several small tables flanked opposite the door which serve as the altar and on and around it are placed incense and offerings of various types. Along the left side, facing the altar, are the low seats or divans and tables of the clergy, arranged in the order of their hierarchical standing—the highest being closest to the altar. The religious precinct also includes a place of residence for its priests. In effect, the unity is a reconstruction of the traditional monastic establishment. The whole is referred to by the Mongolians in English as the temple and in Mongolian as Khurul (Assembly of monks) or olna gazar (holy ground). Today American Mongolians have five temples in the United States. Three of them are in Howell, New Jersey, another one is in Philadelphia, and one is in New York. At the various temples in the United States, lamas work to prepare tangkas, forge idols, and build stupas. The most important of these people familiar in the ways of Buddhist practice are Gyamcho and Jambaldorj, a Khalkha Mongol, who was the disciple of the Living Buddha, Dilowa Gegen Khutughtu.
The Mongolian American community in America also includes small numbers, especially young people who are Christian, but their numbers are few.
Employment and Economic Traditions
The Mongolians who came to the United States were from rural backgrounds and worked as farmers, while others in most cases have skilled and semi-skilled factory jobs in various soft goods industries and mechanical trades, and lots of people are employed in the house building trades. Most of the working women are employed as seamstresses in the dressmaking industry.
Mongolians have opened their own businesses. The most successful Kalmyk Mongolian businesses are the house building trade and small businesses. Today Mongolian Americans are employed in a variety of professional enterprises. About 45 percent of the Mongolian Americans who live the United States are employed in white-collar work.
Politics and Government
Mongolian Americans have always felt a strong attachment to Mongolia and have supported events that occur in the homeland. During the deportation period of the Kalmyk people to Siberia, the Kalmyk Committee in the USA played an important historical role. One of the leaders of this committee is the well-known Kalmyk human rights activist, Djab Naminov Burchinov, who also played an important historical role, in returning Russian Kalmyks to their native land. His place in the fight for the national interests and in defense of human rights is not modest but great.
Burchinov sent several memoranda with the request to accept Mongolia into the UN membership. He assisted in solving this problem positively. Burchinov fights not only for the human rights of Kalmyk Mongols but also the rights of the Tibetans and Inner Mongols. During the time of the AIDS epidemic in Kalmykia he obtained donations from the big American companies.
The Mongol-American Association press has played an important role in Mongolian nationalism in the United States. Since 1990, Mongolian Americans have shown an increasing interest in American government policy decisions concerning Mongolia. Well-known professor John Gombojab Hangin was instrumental in the establishment of normal political relations between Mongolia and the United States.
The United States supports Mongolia’s reforms and renders it technical and humanitarian assistance. United States Congress has adopted a resolution in support of the reforms in Mongolia. The United States declared in 1995 that independent, democratic, prosperous and secure Mongolia is in their interests. Mongolia’s strategic location is important not only geo-politically, but also geo-economically, since it has abundant mineral resources, educated and motivated people and is located between two large, emerging markets with millions of consumers. Despite the long distance, peoples of both countries are interested in developing trade, economic, cultural and people-to-people relations. Bilateral trade in 1997 reached $51 million. Both countries have granted each other most favored nation (MFN) status. Both sides believe that there is enormous potential for developing trade and economic relations.
Individual and Group Contributions
Djab Nominov Burchinov is a well-known Kalmuk Mongol human right activist, and is the author of The Struggle for Cvil Rights of the Kalmyk People (1997). Arash Bormanshinov is the author of Kalmyk Manual (1961), which is considered to be the first work in English on Kalmyk Mongol written by an Kalmyk Mongolian. John Gombojab Hangin was Professor of Mongolian studies at Indiana University at the time of his death. He was a principal founder of both the Mongolia Society and the Mongol-American Cultural Association. He is a author of A Mongol Reader (1956), A Concise English-Mongolian Dictionary (1970), and A Modern Mongolian-English Dictionary (1986). Professor Jagchid Sechin wrote Essays in Mongolian Studies (1988), Mongolian Living Buddha: Biography of the Kanjurwa Khutukhtu (1983), Mongolian Cultural and Society (1979), and Peace, War, and Trade Along the Great Wall: Nomadic Chinese Interaction Through Two Millenia (1989). Dr. Sanj Altan is wellknown Mongolian American Cultural activist; Lee Urubshurow is well-known Kalmyk Mongolian cultural activist; she was a principal founder both of the Kalmyk-American Cultural Association, and the Kalmyk-American Dance Ensemble.
The Mongol Tolbo Newsletter.
The Mongol-American Cultural Association’s newsletter Mongol Tolbo is a quarterly publication enjoys the distribution among its kind. It provides commentary and analysis on the subject of the Mongol culture and news of its economic, political, and social development of Northern and Southern Mongolia, Tuva, Sinjiang, Buryatia and Kalmykia.
Contact: Chinggeltu Borjiged, Editor.
Address: Mongol-American Cultural Association Inc., 50 Louis Street, New Brunswick New Jersey 08901.
Telephone: (732) 297-1140.
Organizations and Associations
Mongol-American Cultural Association, Inc.
The Mongol-American Cultural Association serves as the central point of networking for all Mongolian tribes residing in the United States. Culture, heritage, and customs are shared between all Mongolian Americans no matter what their tribal affiliation or history. The goal of the association is to promote cultural exchange between all of the Mongolian ethnic groups, Khalkha, Buriat, Kalmyk, and Inner Mongolian. They also provide support to Mongolian youth, scholarships to students, aid to the poor, homeless, or handicapped.
Contact: Dr. Sanj Altan, President.
Address: Mongol-American Cultural Association, Inc., 50 Louis Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901.
Telephone: (732) 297-1140.
Asian American Heritage Council of New Jersey.
The Asian American Heritage Council of New Jersey has been of exemplary service to the Asian American citizens of this state, working diligently to assist and integrate Asian culture.
Contact: Shashi K. Agarwal, President.
Address: 290 Central Ave, Orange, New Jersey 07050-3414.
Telephone: (973) 676-1234.
Fax: (973) 676-5858.
Kalmyk-American Cultural Association.
The association has formed classes to teach the Kalmyk Mongolian culture and the language. This organization has not only brought together the young people but has shown them that they have inherited a rich cultural heritage.
Contact: Lee Urubshurow, President.
Address: 55 Schank Road Suite A-1, Freehold, New Jersey 07728.
Telephone: (732) 576-5614.
The Mongolia Society has several hundred members and is concerned with presenting information dealing with the history and culture of this area of Inner Asia. Four separate series devoted to Mongolian topics are published. These are Mongolian Studies; Journal of the Mongolia Society: Mongolia Survey; Occasional Papers; and Special Papers. The society is the only importer of Mongolian books in the United States. It also sells Mongolian dictionaries and a wide variety of items that pertain to Mongolia. An annual scholarship is presented to a person of Mongolian heritage.
Contact: Henry Scharz, President.
Address: Indiana University, 321 Goodbody Hall, Bloomington, Indiana 47405.
Telephone: (812) 855-4078.
Fax: (812) 855-7500.
U.S.-Mongolia Business Council.
Contact: Steven R. Saunders, Executive Director.
Address: 1015 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3551.
Telephone: (703) 549-8444.
Fax: (703) 549-6526.
US-Mongolia Advisory Group.
Contact: Dr. Alica Campi, President.
Address: 6002 Ticonderoga Court, Burke Virginia 22015.
World Mongolian Association.
The association serves as the central point of networking World Mongolian tribes, culture and heritage.
Contact: Giga Andreyev, President.
Address: 55 Schank Road, Suite A-1, Freehold, New Jersey 07728.
Telephone: (732) 409-3511.
Fax: (732) 409-6298.
Sources for Additional Study
Adelman, Fred. Kalmyk Cultural Renewal. PhD dissertation. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1960.
Bormanshinov, Arash. Kalmyk Manual. Micro Photo Division Bell & Howell Company Press, 1963.
Burchinov, Djab Nominov. The Struggle for Civil Rights of the Kalmyk People. Moscow and Elista Press, 1997.
Major, John S. The Land and People of Mongolia. J. B. Lippincott Press, 1990.
Rubel, Paula G. The Kalmyk Mongols: A Study in Continuity and Change. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967.