Last week, in class, I wrote something in Taiwanese on the board, partly to make a point without actually speaking anything but English and yes – I admit it! – partly to show off. The students were all “huh?” except for one, who quickly figured out what I’d written – whose brain immediately perceived the need to read it in Taiwanese, not Chinese.
I asked if he was more comfortable in Taiwanese or Chinese – he said:
"Both…I’m half Taiwanese.”
“My mother was born in Taiwan but my father came from China,” he explained.
So I said it. “You were born in Taiwan?”
“So as far as I am concerned you are Taiwanese, not ‘half Taiwanese’.” (I probably shouldn’t say such things in class, but I know from experience with this group that this is a safe class in which to say such things, otherwise I wouldn’t have touched that live wire).
“Thank you!” he replied, and other students nodded.
And that’s just it. I don’t hear it often, but when I do it’s vehement: the idea that if your parents came from China, not Taiwan, then you aren’t Taiwanese…and therefore, something’s wrong with you. The idea that such children of waishengren (外生人 － I don’t hesitate to use the term for people who actually were born in China, because they use it to self-identify) are not and can not be Taiwanese, or do not and can not understand what the “Taiwanese” think - well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.
I figure, not only are “KMT” and “waishengren” not interchangeable – because they absolutely aren’t (I know plenty of people whose parents came from China who vote DPP, and quite a few old-skool Hoklo who vote KMT), but that if you are born in Taiwan, nobody has the right to say you are not Taiwanese. Your opinions may differ and your home life might have been different as a child – not that different, though – but you have the same set of shared cultural experiences as anyone and in my book, that makes you Taiwanese.
I still may not like who you vote for, but who cares. That's my problem, not yours, and it's not like you have to tell me in the first place, and not like I'll ask unless you're a good friend.
I'm an American woman living and working in Taipei, Taiwan. I work in corporate training, travel frequently, drink far too much coffee and alcohol (often together). I love reading, photography and exploring any city I find myself in. I have a lovely husband, Brendan and a fat, insane cat named Zhao Cai. I write quite a bit about being a female expat and women's issues in Asia, as well as travel, hiking, photography and food - with a few personal anecdotes thrown in.