In 1978, against my grandfather’s advice, my father emigrated from Taiwan to Auburn, Alabama to pursue a Master’s Degree in Forestry. “There’s no need to look elsewhere”, my 阿公 said. “Taiwan has so much money that it covers people’s ankles.” My father then continued his graduate studies in Computer Science at Georgia Tech, where I was born across I-85 from the university.
I am Taiwanese American.
As a kid, I really didn’t know the difference. Growing up in Atlanta in the 80s, there were so few Asians that though I knew I was different and people told me (sometimes rudely) that I was different, I didn’t know what made me different. When we sent letters to family back in the motherland and they were addressed “R.O.C.” I had no clue that stood for Republic of China and definitely had no concept that there was something different called the People’s Republic of China.
I would be considered “9th generation” Taiwanese, my father’s side of the family having immigrated to Taiwan (with 90-ish % confidence) in 1715. When we visit Taiwan we often will go back to “the village” in Hsinchu where many of the original land owners share my last name, and many of the elderly residents are my blood relatives. My mother’s family is also many generations Taiwanese, hailing from the city of Kaohsiung in the south.
In Taiwan there is sometimes a complex relationship between “benshengren” (本省人) and “waishengren” (外省人), the latter being those who came from China with the KMT after the Chinese Civil War and the former being those who were already residing there before. In this sense, I am “very Taiwanese” and it gives me a small sense of pride of knowing where my roots are. I was thrilled when my wife recently took my half-Taiwanese daughter on a trip to Taipei so that she would be able to go back “home”. Despite this point of pride, it is often difficult to reconcile being Taiwanese American.
Taiwanese Americans are the definition of the model minority stereotype. Almost 3/4 of Taiwanese Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher and we have one of the highest median incomes among ethnic minorities coupled with one of the lowest poverty rates. Here in the states the relationship for Taiwanese Americans does not seem all that complex. Whether your family is labeled “benshengren” or “waishengren”, here we are all in the same boat.
Having faced racism in the South as a young boy, I feel camaraderie with and identify as a person of color, but it isn’t always crystal clear. I live an extremely priviledged life. I am an Asian-American male in tech that was, for all intensive porpoises, raised upper-middle class white. I do not face any of the many challenges that other American ethnic minorities face. I do not have to overcome negative stereotypes, but rather live up to positive ones.
It is an odd thing which I have no answers to, but I do know that the happenings of 2016 have proven to me that this is not the America I thought I would raise my children in. So this is a personal challenge to myself, to everyone, and especially to Taiwanese Americans, that we commit to the social, political, and economic liberation of those that are not the model minority.
I am Taiwanese American, but we are all American.