A few hours ago I noticed a friend had joined a SF/Bay Area Taiwanese American group on Facebook. My first thought was cool, that might be a good way to meet Taiwanese people here in SF. So I went and was about to join. Then I hesitated.
How much difference a single word makes.
It’s actually an interesting thing. Taiwanese Americans can call themselves Taiwanese, but they can also call themselves Taiwanese American. They can even call themselves American. And all of it would be true.
Me. Well, I have a weird situation. Though I was born in Taiwan and have a passport there, I did not grow up there. Linguistically I am more comfortable with English as that was how I was educated. Culturally I am a mutt, and can identify with several different countries that way. On the other hand, all the countries I identify with all see me as a foreigner in one way or another.
It’s sort of like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. Stuck in the limbo between countries.
But back to my original topic. I’m sure they’d probably welcome me if I joined, but it doesn’t feel right. In some ways, I know more about American culture than some of my friends here, but I still lack the most important thing that ties people in this sort of identity group together. History. The common history of being born and/or growing up here.
This is not a trivial difference. There have been a few times where Taiwanese Americans I talked to have drawn a line in the sand, reminding me that I am not one of them.
Ironically, this sort of division exists within the Taiwanese identity as well (also the American identity, as Asian Americans can attest). Specifically, you are either a waishengren (外省人) or a benshengren (本省人), literally “external province person” or “original province person” depending on whether you were here before KMT came to Taiwan or before.
I believe this sort of division in Taiwanese identity fostered quite a bit of discrimination. I remember almost 10 years ago my relatives were talking about how some of the taxi cab drivers would refuse to take you if you did not speak to them in Taiwanese. And I’ve read about alleged job discrimination against waishengren in more recent years. There was certainly discrimination in the other direction as well, especially back when the KMT had more power (like punishing kids for speaking Taiwanese in school).
I’ll probably attend some of their events, but I’d probably not become a member for the time being.