Saturday, October 29, 2011

Taiwanese identity from an American perspective

Thanks, Carl, for emailing and sharing your editorial with us!

From our reader Carl Chiang in California:

"I was reading your blogspot and I remembered that I had submitted an article a few years back about the Taiwanese identity topic.
Here is the link to my editorial to the Taipei Times from 2008 just before the last presdential election.  I suppose it would apply as well for the upcoming election!  Taiwanese identity from an American perspective."

Taiwanese and proud

Sun, Feb 17, 2008

After reading about the recent legislative elections and the upcoming presidential election, I'm intrigued by how voters in Taiwan grapple with the issue of national identity.

Having immigrated to the US at age six, I crossed cultural borders constantly during my childhood. Each morning, I would leave a house filled with Asian customs and traditions and then go to school surrounded by American culture.

When the "where are you from" question was asked from time to time, I usually replied "China," which was geographically accurate, as my family left Shanghai for the US.

However the "Chinese-American" label wasn't so accurate.

My father grew up in Taiwan, my mother grew up in Japan and my brother was born in Japan.

All four of my grandparents grew up in Taiwan speaking Taiwanese as their primary language.

Nevertheless, I described myself as Chinese-American to others throughout my childhood in spite of the obvious fact that I didn't have Chinese heritage.

Years later, while in graduate school, one of my roommates, a Taiwanese, was having a lively discussion with one of his close friends, a speaker of Cantonese.

The Cantonese friend thought of himself as Chinese and considered Taiwan as part of a greater China.

My roommate disagreed -- for obvious reasons -- and then turned to me to ask: "What do you consider yourself?"

I tersely replied "Chinese" while grabbing a quick bite during a study break.

Aware of my family's background, my roommate became exasperated and gave me a look.

Not being politically savvy, I simply finished my snack and went back to hitting the books.

A few years later, I heard the distinct sound of Taiwanese as my father was chatting on the phone. I assumed that he was talking to someone on his side of the family.

However, my mother said that he was on the phone with one of my cousins on her side of the family.

Unlike most of my cousins on her side, that particular cousin grew up in Taiwan.

They were discussing the upcoming 2000 presidential election, when it seemed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could replace the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

A few months later, that cousin visited us for the Thanksgiving holiday and cheerfully discussed with my father the first Taiwanese party to capture the presidency.

They spoke of that election with the same emotion felt when describing a profoundly meaningful personal event, such as one's wedding day or the birth of one's child.

I was disappointed in myself that I had not understood before how much significance this event held for my father.

The clues were there. He was born in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule, witnessed second-class treatment at the hands of the KMT during his childhood and ultimately had to leave his native Taiwan for a chance at a better life as an adult.

Add on the fact that none of my grandparents lived to see a Taiwanese elected to preside over their own country and it's clear why that election was so significant.

While one election certainly didn't undo decades of injustice, at least it gave hope to my father that the ship continued to point in the right direction.

As for my journey to the obvious, I'm not exactly sure what took so long.

Perhaps I was so focused on school that I didn't reflect fully on my origins. Perhaps it was fear that kept my parents from discussing sensitive political topics. Perhaps it was the hassle of having to explain the distinction between Chinese and Taiwanese to everyone.

Circling back to the issue of the upcoming presidential election, as Taiwanese voters proceed to the polls again, they need to carefully consider their own history in order to build that path to a better future.

I suspect that many are realizing now that they themselves have essentially handed the legislature to a foreign regime.

If the Taiwanese truly understand who they are, then they should be extremely wary of the KMT, who are likely to appease communist China, export strategic technology to China and shackle Taiwan to a Chinese economy that may well be a bubble on the verge of collapse.

The Taiwanese should make a stand now so that the ship continues to point in the direction of freedom.

Otherwise, they will hand their destiny over to the same people who forced suffering upon them for decades.

As a person of Taiwanese heritage with a US viewpoint, it is obvious that Taiwan must acknowledge its soul or risk losing that and much more in the future.

Carl Chiang

Richmond, California

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