LOS ANGELES — At the Miss Taiwanese American pageant, contestants typically answer questions like, “Describe yourself in three words.”

This year, with the contest taking place days after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan, organizers urged the young women to share their thoughts on the island.

One of the contestants, Tiffany Chang, shed light on Taiwan’s vaunted semiconductor industry and a democratic government that provides universal health care and legalized same-sex marriage.

Chang said afterwards that she had become increasingly aware of her role in educating others about Taiwan as threats from China grew more aggressive.

“If we as Taiwanese Americans don’t define our identity, it will be imposed on us, as Taiwan’s history reminds us again and again,” said Chang, a freshman new to Stanford, who was crowned the winner on August 6. at the Hilton Hotel in San Gabriel.

Taiwan’s complex geopolitical and ethnic history captured the nation’s attention in May after a gunman opened fire on a Taiwanese congregation in Laguna Woods, killing one person and injuring five.

As details emerged about the Taiwan-born suspect and his political beliefs, Taiwanese Americans found themselves explaining a subject that takes paragraphs, not sentences, to be clear. Some who grew up in the United States realized that they needed to know more about themselves before answering questions from their friends.

Last month, Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan forced the world to take notice of the precariousness of the island’s existence.

How was Taiwan de facto independent, with its own military and democratically elected government, while China was trying to make the decisions? Would the United States stand up for Taiwan if China attacked? Were the Taiwanese afraid? (No, they were mostly worried about what to eat for dinner – and what Pelosi ate while she was there.)

In the Taiwanese immigrant community in Southern California, some believed Pelosi was bringing needed attention to their homeland, while others viewed the trip, which prompted China to fire missiles and fly planes. hunting near the Taiwanese coast, like a dangerous demagoguery.

Among Taiwanese, ideological divides are as red and blue in American politics, with friends often agreeing to avoid sensitive topics. Some elders speak better Japanese than Mandarin, while others remember fleeing the Japanese to mainland China during World War II. Some call themselves Taiwanese. Others prefer Chinese. Some want to push more openly for independence.

Almost everyone, however, can agree on one thing: they support Taiwan’s democratic way of life and do not want China, which considers the island as part of its territory, to take power by force. .

“It’s like two brothers in the same family, running the family business, but they don’t agree,” said Prudence Huang, 63, of Long Beach, of the divisions among Taiwanese immigrants. “I just hope that before I die, Taiwan and China can find a peaceful solution – without war.”

Huang, a retired database administrator who came to the United States four decades ago, usually avoids discussing Taiwanese politics. But an online group discussion ignited when it asked why Taiwanese citizens would pay for a “Taiwan for Trump” billboard in the 2020 election.

“They immediately called me pro-China, and I didn’t even mention China at all,” said Huang, who holds dual American and Taiwanese citizenship.

Janet Chu, an employee of the San Gabriel Valley medical practice, said Pelosi’s visit shone a spotlight on Taiwan.

It was the first time a House Speaker had set foot in Chu’s homeland since Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in 1997, though congressional delegations often visit.

Until Pelosi, a California Democrat, made headlines, many of Chu’s friends had little interest in Taiwan, preferring to go to China or Japan.

“Ms. Pelosi gives positive attention to our country,” said Chu, who moved to California from Taiwan’s capital Taipei in the 1980s, as she waited for a table at the ZZ Hotpot House in Garden Grove. “She can choose to travel anywhere. I’m glad she chose Taiwan, because we need the public to have sympathy for our situation.”

In West Los Angeles, Crystal Kaza, who immigrated to the United States in 1991, had a radically different take on Pelosi’s journey. She wondered if Pelosi was looking for publicity rather than trying to help Taiwan.

“When I see us in the news, my first question is, ‘What’s the point? People talk about Taiwan as if they really understand its history and all of its nuances,” said Kaza, 53, a substitute teacher. “But until you experience it, you can’t judge.”

More than 50,000 Taiwanese Americans live in Southern California, according to AAPI Data’s June analysis of the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This is likely a significant undercount, as some mark their ethnicity as Chinese.

Beginning in the 1960s, Taiwanese students enrolled in American graduate schools, often to study science or technology, said Chris Fan, a professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Many stayed to build careers and raise families. The immigrant pool then diversified, but Taiwanese Americans remain among the most educated and wealthy ethnic groups in the country, Fan said.

Older Taiwanese immigrants are defined by their identity as waishengren – those who fled mainland China when the nationalists lost to the communists in 1949 – or benshengren, who had settled in Taiwan before. said Wendy Cheng, professor of American studies at Scripps College. .

Later generations are more likely to identify as Taiwanese regardless of background, Cheng said – as is the case among young people in Taiwan.

Recently, at the Taiwan Center in Rosemead, members of the karaoke club sang songs.

John Huang, a retiree from Arcadia, sang “Minato Machi Blues” in Japanese.

At 84, he was born under Japanese colonial rule. After Chiang Kai-shek’s repressive government took power, he was banned from speaking the Taiwanese dialect in school.

Huang, who came to the United States in 1975 and worked as an interior designer in Beverly Hills, taught his two children fluent Taiwanese.

“A long time ago they said we were Chinese because they controlled everything,” he said. “They know everything is Taiwanese” now.

A day later, Lillian Chang arrived at the center to collect her award for being named the first princess in the Miss Taiwanese American pageant.

Chang, 26, is a satellite structural engineer from Torrance who moved to the United States as a teenager. A number of colleagues have asked her about Taiwan lately.

“I just told them, ‘We are doing our job to spread democracy,'” she said. “So if you can help, that would be great.”

Perspectives vary on either side of the Pacific, Chang realized, with distance amplifying fears about loved ones.

After the church shooting, Chang’s parents called from Taiwan to express concern about gun violence and hate crimes. She promised to hide in her car if necessary, adding that she had been to a shooting range to familiarize herself with a gun.

Many Taiwanese, accustomed to decades of threats from China, reacted nonchalantly to Pelosi’s visit. Chang reminded his mother and father to prepare an emergency backpack to take with them if things went wrong.

“They didn’t,” she said. “What worries me.”

The events of the past year have forced Taiwanese-Americans to confront their history and internal divisions, potentially bringing them closer together, said Chieh-Ting Yeh of Mountain View, Calif., who co-founded Ketagalan Media, which focuses on Taiwan.

Regardless of their ethnic origins, many can agree on the common cause of “defending democracy, freedom, human rights, especially against China”, said Yeh, who arrived in the United States. from Taiwan at the age of 10.

“People have realized that regardless of our internal differences within Taiwanese identity, there is something we have to fight,” he said.

Being Taiwanese American right now means constantly checking the headlines, “trying to read everything people are saying about us,” said Alan Chang, 26, as he sipped a sea salt coffee at the Taiwanese bakery. 85C at Irvine.

Chang has friends whose parents are from mainland China, as well as those who, like him, have roots in Taiwan. They didn’t look much into each other’s backgrounds.

Chang, who works part-time for a driving service, is not registered to vote, and Pelosi’s visit took him by surprise. He assumed that American politicians would mainly pay attention to national issues.

“I did not understand the implications of his trip, as I have never been to my parents’ homeland,” he said. “I guess it’s time to find out more now. It made me curious to start talking to them about how they grew up.”


©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

About The Author

Related Posts