Aftab Pureval shakes hands with attendees of a rally for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign at Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Ohio. [Image: Aftab Pureval/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)]

First Tibetan American Mayor of Cincinnati meets the Dalai Lama


This month, Mayor Aftab Pureval, with a delegation of political leaders traveled to India, on invite, to meet with the Dalai Lama. The delegation included Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter of San Leandro, California; Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, California; former Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh; and Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky. Pureval’s meeting with the Dalai Lama is viewed as an effort to position the city as a “flourishing, global destination”. For Pureval, the meeting showcases the city’s “commitment to diversity and our growing the city equitably.”

Aftab Pureval is the first Tibetan-American and Asian American mayor of Cincinnati after his win on November 2, 2021. Before serving as mayor, Pureval served as the Hamilton County clerk of courts. His electoral campaign was endorsed in March of 2021 by AAPI Victory Fund as “a necessary progressive voice that has been able to achieve success with Democrats and Republicans alike.” His electoral victory was monumental for the Tibetan community and drew in a lot of support from the Tibetan and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Many immigrants from Tibet and the AAPI community traveled to Cincinnati across the region to watch Pureval sworn in. Tenpa Phuntsok, assistant director of the Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center (TMBC) in Indiana, presented Pureval with a letter from the 14th Dalai Lama, which included an invitation to come to India. In the letter, the Dalai Lama wrote, “In all my interactions with Tibetans, I have been encouraged to see that, despite living in new circumstances by and large they and their children are able to maintain their sense of identity while contributing to the development of their adopted country.” Pureval, son of a Tibetan mother and Punjabi father, has made it his duty to represent his community.

The Dalai Lama, himself, has made visits to Cincinnati on several occasions, the latest of which was in 2010. In 2010, the Dalai Lama visited Miami University and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, his Holiness, was presented the International Freedom Conductor Award for his “leadership of the non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet.” At Miami University, his Holiness spoke to students as a part of the University’s partnership with the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamshala, India which the Dalai Lama is a patron of.

The Dalai Lama’s message of peace, nonviolence, human values, and understanding are highly symbolic to the Tibetan community, who believe the Dalai Lama to be the manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion, reincarnated to serve humanity. Just as the Dalai Lama is symbolic to Tibet, his Holiness is also symbolic for Mayor Pureval and the greater Cincinnati area. The opportunity for his Holiness to travel to Cincinnati would be a profound experience. Having advised Mayor Pureval to “lead by prioritizing others, to have a warm heart, and to always focus and prioritize compassion,” the Dalai Lama has helped Pureval on his journey to growing the city of Cincinnati more equitably.

Alura Winfrey is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington participating in the Young Professionals Program. She is a third-year undergraduate student attending George Washington University where she is majoring in International Affairs with a regional concentration in Asia.