Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Friday, July 05, 2002

In Taiwan I’m often asked where I’m from.

The longer I’m here and the more I’m asked this question, the more I wonder how I should answer this question. Am I Taiwanese, Canadian, American, Taiwanese Canadian or Taiwanese American? What proportions of each make up my equation? I realize that I can’t just give a pat answer.

They ask: “Ni se na li ren?” (What place or country are you from?)
I usually just say: “Wo se Mei Guo ren.” (I’m American.)
I realize that this response is not really a sufficient, but it answers the question directly and who really wants to hear my life story?!

The responses I get are pretty hilarious.

Some people simply look back in disbelief and say but you don’t look like one (i.e. WHITE).
They say: “Ni se zhong guo ren.” (You’re Chinese.)
To this sort of comment I’ve often protested: “Bu se.” (No I’m not.)

Meanwhile I’m thinking that I can’t believe that I have to correct people on this point in Taiwan. Back in North America, I thought it was bad enough that people were misinformed of the difference between China and Taiwan.

It’s distressing to me that the people here don’t think that they are Taiwanese, or don’t recognize that they are from Taiwan. Why are some people holding on defiantly to their ties to China? That’s a loaded question that I could probably write a book on. Perhaps it’s because there are many people with relatives from both Taiwan and China, or others who were lured from China to Taiwan under subversive pretenses.

I clarify my response by saying: “Zhe li se bu se Zhong guo?” (Is this China? Or Are we in China now?) “Wo mama baba se Taiwan ren” (My mother and father are from Taiwan).

Other people seem confused, they have no response, but are probably thinking… hmmm she sounds like one (an American when she speaks Taiwanese or Chinese), acts like one, but doesn’t quite look like one (i.e. WHITE).

For others it all seems to make sense; they buy into the story completely. To them I don’t look like a typical Taiwanese person- I can’t be Taiwanese or they rationalize that I must be half American (i.e. WHITE). But when they inquire further about my family, they are surprised or confused again when I tell them that my parents are Taiwanese- born, raised and educated, fluently (Chinese and Taiwanese) speaking Taiwanese people.

Guess the Taiwanese people just don’t have an expansive concept what is American- that Americans come in all different sizes, colors and shapes. Hell, America is still grappling with this. Asian Americas are still viewed as the perpetual outsiders as evidenced by the recent Abercrombie and Fitch and fiasco and politically incorrect headlines not once, but twice, involving figure skater Michelle Kwan at the 2002 Olympics (“Hughes good as gold / American outshines Kwan, Slutskaya in skating surprise”) and 1998 Olympics (“American beats Kwan”).

ABCs and ABTs are a curiosity in Taiwan. I think that I’m causing confusion by not specifying that I’m a Taiwanese born abroad in the U.S. But even after offering this explanation, people are confused and wonder why I can’t speak a lick of Chinese, or why I speak better Taiwanese than Chinese.

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