1st Tibetan-Canadian elected to public office in North America reflects on humble beginnings in Canada

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Newly elected NDP MPP Bhutila Karpoche can vividly remember when she landed with her family in Toronto in 2002.  

"I actually came here the day before Canada Day, and I didn't know that July 1st was Canada Day. It was so festive and everybody was out and having a great time," she told CBC Toronto.

"My first impression of Canada was of great celebration and joy, and it was just such of a happy place."

Karpoche knew little about the city that would become her home, other than it had a small but vibrant Tibetan community.

However, she says it was that community who helped propel her to victory in the riding of Parkdale-High Park on June 7 in one of the most memorable elections in the province's history.

"One of the biggest joys of running and being part of this campaign was really to see how everybody from the community was so involved," Karpoche said.

"That is real democracy. That is real involvement in the electoral process, which was really heartening."

Building roots in Parkdale

Her beginnings in Toronto were humble. Shortly after arriving in the country, she lived in a high-rise building on Tyndall Avenue in the city's Parkdale neighbourhood.

And like many newcomers, Karpoche and her family worked on building roots in the community.

"I remember we had such fantastic neighbours here in Parkdale. There were so many great community organizations that supported us that helped us settle in the community," she said.

"I felt that no matter what was going to come ahead in terms of challenges in settling in Canada, at the end of the day that things were going to be okay because the community was just so great. We just felt like we were so welcomed, and we felt like we belonged here."

From there, she got involved in community organizing. Noticing housing and rent control issues in her neighbourhood, as well as showing an interest in human rights and democracy, Karpoche began to get into politics with the help of the NDP's Cheri DiNovo.

Karpoche succeeded DiNovo as the party's candidate upon her retirement last year and turned her riding Orange once again in the most recent provincial election. 

That victory also made her the first Tibetan-Canadian elected to office in North America.

"The significance of this moment is not lost on me, but really the big honour for me is that the people of Parkdale-High Park elected me as their representative. They've placed their trust in me."

And Sunday, the Tibetan community will gather to celebrate her historic victory at a local church.  

"Traditionally, the way we do it is we offer a white scarf to the person, and so I expect that a lot of people will be coming with white scarves today," she said.