Bringing Taiwanese to Taiwanese Americans – My Last Chapter

“We are a social club, we shouldn’t talk about politics.” “We are a non-profit, we don’t do politics.” “We are Taiwanese American, we should focus on Asian American issues, not Taiwan issues.”

I’ve heard it all. At one point or another, I’ve agreed to it all. Today, I disagree.

“In my experience, politics haves typically been a taboo topic within Taiwanese/Taiwanese American communities. I believe that this comes from the desire to not offend anyone, avoid conflict, and to be inclusive. However, I have come to see that by excluding politics we oftentimes exclude history, too. As organizations, we will focus on culture, but not deeply enough to explore history and any politics involved. The Taiwanese are not homogenous and by limiting what we are willing to talk about, we end up excluding people, too. This ends up undercutting a common goal to educate and celebrate our identities. I would like to challenge us to have the courage to talk about politics and how it has affected the course of history and manifested itself in the unique characteristics of Taiwanese culture.”

-Pei-Lynn Juang
Taiwanese American Foundation (TAF) 2018 Conference Director

Taiwan has a “controversial” past, but that’s part of the heritage. It would be like Americans never learning about the stripping away of land from the Native Americans or China never learning about the Tiananmen Massacre. However “controversial” it may be, the past is part of Taiwan’s identity

Outreach for Taiwan (OFT) is an organization dedicated to helping others learn more about Taiwan’s past, present and future.

-Outreach for Taiwan mission statement

Six years ago, I founded OFT along with my friend Jenny Wang. Together we spent hours preparing for workshops and working with young Taiwanese Americans to help them learn about Taiwan. I know that it’s hard to learn about your heritage when your family doesn’t talk about it. I know it’s hard to learn about Taiwan when everything is in Mandarin. Above all, I know it’s hard to learn about your identity when everyone tells you it’s being political.

“I feel that the few conversations about Taiwanese issues I’ve had have been through private messages or in one on one conversions with close friends, but rarely in a large group setting. It’s so important for there to be venues for public discussion around Taiwan’s history and current political situation, as otherwise, these things can be too easily ignored or forgotten. There may be many more Taiwanese Americans who would like the space to discuss or learn more about Taiwanese history and find solidarity in knowing that their peers care about the same things, so Taiwanese American groups should absolutely provide these opportunities.”

-Stephanie Chung
Former President of Strait Talk – Brown University

I’ve been doing workshops on Taiwan for 6 years. This isn’t 6 years of hardcore advocacy or talking about Taiwanese food. This is 6 years of delivering information about Taiwan from all aspects; history, culture, food and politics. The most popular topic is US Taiwan China relations. My brother has always said, “Nothing comes of talking about politics. Someone always gets upset.” As a product manager, I use my skills of empathy to talk about issues from all sides and my only ask is for attendees to come to their own conclusions.

I’ve said before that I believe “being Taiwanese is about freedom of choice. The freedom to call yourself Taiwanese, Chinese, Hokkien, Hakka, Atayal, Amis or any mixture of these.” It’s about freedom. Taiwanese American organizations need to move away from the “fear of offending” others because talking about Taiwanese history and politics helps us understand our heritage. Let’s not go back to Taiwan martial law where people could only find a blank page when there were references about being Taiwanese. With my work through OFT, I help fill the blank pages and leave it up to the audience to decide what they want to do with it.

“The fact is that there is a strong disconnection between the second generation diaspora community and Taiwan. The collegiate ecosystem provides an interesting observation as to how sentiments have evolved over time. Many Taiwanese American Association chapters at schools have difficulties grasping and showcasing the multifaceted aspects of Taiwan, often focusing on food and not, for example, fostering an environment for historical discourse. I’ve often been askedwithin the capacity of my TASA and ITASA leadership, “by being so Taiwan focused, aren’t you afraid of alienating non-Taiwanese people”. My answer is always “no”, the same way the NAACP is unapologetic about their identity and advancing its mission with their community. The fact is that one of the main purposes of these “Taiwanese” organizations is to foster a strong sense of identity and community through collective exploration, and we must never forget that.”

-Roy Cheng
Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Student Association (ITASA) 2019-2020 National President

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Taiwan is under the foot of China. Her identity is shaved away each time an organization says “Don’t post that, it’s too anti-China. It’s political.” To foster and protect the Taiwanese American identity is to stand up for the Taiwanese identity. As leaders of the Taiwanese American community, we should not stay silent, we should not stay neutral. Know your controversial past and stand up for it. If not, then Taiwan might as well just be an “other Asian.”

“I think what we can do now is to be good listeners, and encourage our peers to be comfortable expressing what we do and don’t know. I’ve read articles by Taiwanese Americans, and I’ve felt inspired by them… not too many though. There are role models out there, but maybe they are not celebrated or motivated (incentivized?) enough. It’s one thing to be informed on these issues yourself, and it’s another to feel like other people care about it with you.”

-Bertha Wang
Former President of Princeton Taiwanese American Student Association

I’ve always loved Taiwan and I want to give back to the island. What I can do in America is limited. I have decided that this will be my last year in America. This Fall semester will be my last hurrah speaking at colleges across the nation, educating them on Taiwan. If you head a Taiwanese American organization, please come talk to me because I would love to talk to you! If you have an idea about spreading knowledge on Taiwan, shoot me an email. If you just want to grab a bite and talk about Taiwan (and happen to be Boston), I’m only a few T stops away. This is the last chapter of my Taiwan experience in America.

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