ABC Nightline’s recent report “Families of Muslims allegedly detained by Chinese government speak out” interviewed Uyghur expatriates who have relatives believed to be imprisoned in interment camps. Those of us who follow international affairs are surely aware of the Uyghur people’s predicament; hence, it is a report with additional details, not breaking news. What slightly puzzles me is ABC’s decision to spell “Uighur” with an “i” instead of “y.” “Uighur” and “Uyghur” are both fine and interchangeable. Perhaps “Uighur” is easier to pronounce, for those who have not heard of this people’s journey and struggle.
Dolan’s Uyghur Cuisine, whose proprietor is wise to include the preferred full spelling of “Uyghur” in his business name, has been enhancing SoCal’s ethnic dining scene only since the beginning of 2019. One finds an exotic yet family-oriented casual space, redolent of a modern Uyghur residence’s dining room perhaps, after stepping inside Dolan’s. Two teas on the beverage menu interested me: Dolan’s Special Tea and Uyghur Milk Tea. The gregarious server strongly suggested Dolan’s Special Tea after learning it was my first visit. Dolan’s is located on the city of Alhambra’s bustling Valley Boulevard where Asian bakeries and boba tea shops saturate every block; the server probably worried that I would find the savory milk tea too unfamiliar, even disagreeable. His thoughtfulness reminded me of a conversation I overheard between two men from China at a neighborhood café, who loudly discussed their experience of working with Uyghur business partners and commented on how friendly and considerate the Uyghur people were.
Dolan’s Special Tea — a blend of black tea, cinnamon, Persian rock candy, and other ingredients — was refreshing and fragrant, and complemented samsa and laghman well; however, I wish I had not been persuaded and had ordered the milk tea whose flavor I wished to recollect and relish.
Dolan’s business owner and I first conversed in English. I then initiated Mandarin which I heard him speak quite fluently with other customers moments earlier. He did not hesitate to voice his tremendous disapproval of the Chinese government’s policies, including passport confiscation and reeducation camps, while being surrounded by other diners who were clearly newcomers from China. He actually detailed his unfortunate personal story in an L.A. Times article a few months ago, which also interviewed Dolan’s chefs.
My last question for the proprietor before leaving Dolan’s: When your people attain independence, what will be the name of your new nation? His answer was “East Turkestan.”
East Turkestan, of course! It was more than twenty years ago that I first learned the significance and the struggle, at an activist event. Today the immense land is officially known as the XinJiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The two Chinese characters, XinJiang (新疆), mean simply “new territory,” named and annexed during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Perhaps in a few generations the Uyghur people will hold a national referendum, like the ones that called for Scotland and Catalonia’s Independence Movements. At present, the world awaits the outcome of the dire conflict between Hong Kong and China.
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