Recently, the Taiwanese American Citizens League (TACL), TaiwaneseAmerican.org, Taiwanese American Foundation, TACL-LYF: Leading Youth Forward, Taiwanese American Professionals – San Francisco (TAP-SF), Taiwanese American Federation of Northern California helped produce this Public Service Announcement (PSA), advocating for all Taiwanese Americans to self-identify for the 2010 U.S. census taking place in April as “Other Asian” and write in “Taiwanese.”
For more information about the PSA, check out http://taiwaneseamerican.org/census2010/ , where you can learn about the Taiwanese Americans in the PSA, including California State Assemblyman and California Attorney General candidate Ted Lieu.
According to TACL, the 2000 estimates of Taiwanese Americans are 1.12 million (in the census 2000, only 144,795 Taiwanese Americans were recorded an under count by almost 90%. The U.S. Constitution requires a national census once every 10 years and census forms will be mailed to every household in March & Census Day is April1, 2010. The census counts EVERYONE residing in the United States (including non-citizens & international students.) The census is confidential – your responses are protected by law under Title 13, U.S. code, Section 9 and only takes 10 minutes to fill. The census data is important because it directly affects how more than $300 BILLION per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities & non-profit organizations. That’s more than $3 TRILLION DOLLARS over the 10-year period.
After the jump, you can read more about my rant on being a Taiwanese American and why it matters.
Growing up, as part of my upbringing, always identified as a Taiwanese American rather than a Chinese American. Both my father’s and mother’s side of the family had been in Taiwan for hundreds of years and spoke Taiwanese (as well as Mandarin – they would speak to my brother and I in Mandarin for us to get the maximum benefit of learning the most populous language and Taiwanese when they wanted to keep their conversations “secret”). I remember my father often having to explain the difference between Taiwan and China, and that the U.S. official stance was the “One China” policy, and how the United Nations switch recognition of “China” from the Republic of China (ROC – Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC – mainland China), and the United States officially recognizing the PRC over ROC diplomatically in 1979.
However, what really galvanized me as an adult to self-identify as a Taiwanese American was when in 1995 I attended an ITASA conference at Harvard and heard a speech entitled, “How I Became a Taiwanese-American and why It Matters.” What really got me in the speech was this:
“Just start telling me that “Taiwanese” is “the same thing” as “Chinese” and I would feel blood rising to my head … Moreover, it seemed so unfair that other people could say they were Korean or Italian or Egyptian and no one would try to tell them that they were something else. It was incredible to me that people who knew nothing about my background and even less about Taiwanese history would try to argue with me about my claim to a Taiwanese identity… We must realize that if we do not make the distinction between Taiwanese and Chinese, then nobody will do it for us. To take it another step further, if you don’t determine your own identity, then it will be imposed upon you, as Taiwan’s history has demonstrated time and time again.”
In the past, I would tell others that being Taiwanese and Chinese was basically the same thing, just to make things simple and not having to explain the whole diplomatic history and differences between the two countries, because in most contexts, it’s hard to explain in just a sentence or two (but I would say that my parents were from Taiwan – to make the distinction that they were not from Hong Kong or mainland China). But since that speech, I’ve gone out of my way to make sure to identify as Taiwanese American, and explain the differences if questions did come up.
I really do think there is a real distinction between being a Taiwanese Americans and Chinese Americans – everything from linguistically (Taiwanese vs. Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.) to the overall immigrant experience. Most of the Taiwanese Americans I know of my age and generation, their parents immigrated to the United States in the 1960s to study for an advance degree and then chose to remain in the U.S. At the time, there weren’t that many Chinese from mainland China (PRC), immigrating to the U.S. (as that was during the Cultural Revolution). Since I only knew Mandarin, I could barely communicate with my grandparents, because they only spoke Taiwanese or Japanese (due to the 50 years of Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945).
Even in college, I noticed differences from those who self identified as Hong Kongese-American – from the way they spoke in Catonese to the way they acted and hung out with each other. To be honest, I don’t think I even knew any Chinese Americans except for maybe some graduate students who were from mainland China (this was in the late 80s and early 90s).
I like to think that being Taiwanese that we can have the best of both worlds – having a Chinese heritage, taking the best of Chinese culture, and building upon that tradition along with unique differences and history of Taiwan. In fact, I think Taiwan takes the best of China without the bad baggage. Without Taiwan, Traditional Chinese, which has thousands of years of history, may have not been preserved as well as it is today, as well as the historic treasures of China were safe from the Red Guard in Taipei’s National Palace Museum. Although Taiwan, the country, may not be diplomatically recognized by the United Nations or by most nations, it is a defacto independent country. Taiwan has its own unique language, culture, cuisine, democratically elected government, Olympic team (“Chinese Taipei“) and independent currency, just to name a few things that make Taiwan unique.
Historically, most Taiwanese have ethnic roots that emigrated to Taiwan from the mainland several hundred years ago. But much like the British who settled Australia, I doubt most Australians think of themselves as British or English. Self-identifying as a Taiwanese American is important in the census and does have consequences – everything from having the right number of government forms available for translation (in Traditional Chinese – especially for older immigrants who come over with their adult children), addressing health issues specific to the Taiwanese community and to of course, politically. So check “Other Asian” and write in “Taiwanese.” Be counted. Be recognized. Spread the word!