“Do any of you know what this is?”, I asked as I held up a small cut-out felt stencil of the shape of Taiwan.
The kids from the Tiny Tots program of Taiwanese American Next Generation (TANG) sat in a circle, curiously looked at the shape, and eagerly started exclaiming their ideas of what the shape could be.
“Is it a leaf? A tree?”
“Oh it’s a dolphin!”
Several parents sitting nearby adoringly chuckled at the scene.
“No, this is Taiwan!” I explained.
Immediately, the kids started to share their own anecdotes about Taiwan.
“I’ve never been to Taiwan! Mommy will bring me there soon!”
“Oh Taiwan? Ah-gong lives there!”
This year was my first time attending the TANG program. I have several friends who grew up attending TANG and ended up staffing it reach out and ask if I would be interested in volunteering. This year, I was finally able to take a few days off work to go. I was program director for their Tiny Tots program, which consists of adorable children ages 3 to 6.
- What is TANG?
TANG is an organization that focuses on building a loving community for the youth. Every year, TANG hosts a summer camp which serves campers from age 3 all the way up to the 12th grade. Campers and staff are constantly encouraged to explore the 4 main themes of TANG: identity, community, growth and family.
- How was TANG created?
In the 70s and 80s, when the first wave of Taiwanese immigrants arrived to the United States, a number of them from the Northeast would gather to meet up. These meet-ups blossomed into a conference, known as the Taiwanese American Conference/East Coast (TAC/EC). Eventually, it started to focus on more in-depth discussions about various topics relating to Taiwan – such as human rights, freedom and democracy. Over the years, parents attending the conference would bring their children as well, which created an impromptu community for second generation Taiwanese Americans. It wasn’t until 2003, when these youth eventually decided to create their own structured programming, TANG, for young Taiwanese Americans attending TAC/EC with their parents. In addition to their 4 main themes, TANG also emphasizes the importance of having children feel connected to the community and be proud of their Taiwanese American identity.
Although TANG’s summer camp only takes place across a few days, it definitely creates life-long friendships and leaves a lasting impression on everyone who takes part in it. I personally thought it was an amazing and beautiful experience mainly because of the multi-generational aspect of this program. Since TAC/EC and TANG were all held on the same campus on the same days, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation Taiwanese Americans constantly crossed paths.
I’ve had grandparents of my campers tell me how happy they were to see their grandchildren meet so many new Taiwanese American friends. I’ve had parents tell me how they also grew up attending this camp, and how great it was for their own children to attend it as well. (Some of the Tiny Tots even brought their own Formosan Black Teddy Bears with them! #thefeels) Not only that, but all of the staff that I met are all truly inspirational individuals, each and every one of them genuinely care about wanting these children to grow, explore and passionately pursue their convictions. The staffers showed such dedication to create memorable experiences for the campers, and during the late nights, we all bonded about our own childhood experiences that has brought us back together through the years. Instead of “that time at band camp”, it’s “that time at TANG camp”.
Throughout the years, I have been heavily involved in a number of advocacy/political/educational Taiwanese organizations, and sometimes have had difficulty grasping whether or not such organizations really make an impact on Taiwan’s future. However, attending TANG has renewed my faith in the Taiwanese community. It came full circle to me about how important it is to have these little tots feel connected to our community and being proud of their Taiwanese American heritage at such a young age.
The future of the Taiwanese American community is in good hands.