*The mixtape video we all needed. It’s a hard time right now, can’t understate that. Philando Castile, the healthcare bill, the deportations, targeting of Muslims during Ramadan, the environment destruction, the list is so long it’s almost paralyzing. It seems like the politics posts on Facebook at least in my filter bubble have waned a bit, bc it’s like, we know it’s not gonna get better anytime soon, but I know that there are so many broken hearts with a dose of toxic anger all the same from all the offline conversations.
But one thing I’ve noticed though in NYC, since the election, it seems like immigrants have been kinder to each other. Going to stores, Lyft/Uber drivers, walking in these streets, going to work, there is a strange gentleness to each other that I don’t think was quite there before. We don’t speak the same languages, we don’t share the same skin colors or cultures, we don’t really even have the same struggles (I’m totally cognizant of the fact I’m a light-skinned Asian whose is a natural born American citizen with a White collar job and what that gets me – I walked through customs in under 3 minutes with Global Entry yesterday – which gives me a responsibility to do a damn thing), but it seems we’re in this reality where we need each other’s kindness because of Trumplandia and a lot of the White Liberals who quite frankly seem to be want to be there for their racist cousins than for us, I get that tribalism, but we’re responding in kind with our kindness to each other in response to what is effectively state-sanctioned violence.
For some of you out there, I know you don’t feel this, but feel me for a minute when I say this cruelty out here is undeserved, and it’s real, and if you’re not fighting it, you’re complicit. Let’s get on with it. Save your kindness for those who deserve it and need it. We’re America’s ghostriders, and the former colonized in Europe built those empires. The credit is only borrowed. We’re going to cash those checks, sooner or later, one way or another.
*One thing I do want to call out some friends pointed out on FB – the misogyny in the lyrics and in hip hop in general, :(. Also, let’s not forget in the American context, most Black Americans weren’t immigrants and were forced to build the country for free and Native Americans driven off on the land that was theirs.
TBH part of me lowkey wants to stay in Taiwan and not go home to NYC, back to America, and back to the West. Over the last few days, it sank in how truly nightmarish it has been to live with so much hatred in the relative absence of it.
Taiwan is far from perfect and not free of divisions, but right now, like Gil Scott-Heron sang, home is where the hatred is. It hurts to live with so much constant unease and anger. We’re in for a long fight. Recoiling in horror has always been a constant for People of Color, but the collective fear level is amped even more now.
In a weird way, I can kind of see the false seductiveness of maybe what a lot of conservatives feel. It’s incredible to not feel your race, to walk amongst your own kind. There is something to be said about feeling your blood and history being connected to everyone and everything around you in a way that makes sense. To be connected to the land and see yourself in generations forwards and backwards. It’s beautiful. I can see the desire to not want to deal with anything more complicated than that. There are plenty of other folks like me here “back from” the US, Canada, Australia, and other such places here working, running bar & burger shops, living corporate, etc speaking funny versions of Chinese and Taiwanese, a simultaneously revered, reviled, and recognizable social category. It still feels like home though, especially in these sour times. The thing that’s mutually missed is Mexican food. I feel that draw and temptation as deeply as anyone else – that China problem is worth the risk. Maybe someday I’ll give into it.
In a way, Taiwan is a nation of leavers like Ireland. People coming and going. I couldn’t help but see a lot of what I already knew when I was there a few weeks ago, both in the sense that being American is to immediately recognize so much of what we know as American culture actually comes from Ireland, but also in the sense of being part of a people from a much hotter but also emerald-colored island with a history of similar struggles and with an equally if not more fanatically devoted diaspora.
Unlike in the West, your bloodline in this part of the world is inescapable. The Irish and other Europeans don’t seem to consider people who share their blood and distant heritage as brethren, but it doesn’t function that way in a lot of Asia, for better or worse. I get undeserved brownie points for being a natural born American that can read and speak the language and know how to code switch into the culture, which I really only know because really I am a fat woman who likes being able to eat everything. Other Asian Americans get seen with scorn for “forgetting who they really are.” Both of these are simplistic narratives that don’t fit the world we live in.
I’m an unabashed globalist. Maybe I’m a condescending liberal elitist. A loudmouth hip hop head in New York who holds it down for the California Republic but a polite and loyal Taiwanese-American when I’m back on the island. Theresa May would probably call me a Citizen of Nowhere and I’m truly part of what the Make America Great Again crowd hates. And I hate them too, no doubt. At a most basic, it’s just self-defense against people who condone multiple levers of violence.
But what’s obvious to me as a perpetual outsider, code switcher, and lucky (privileged) enough to move through borders and cultures is that problems we might think are singular are global and interconnected better or worse that can’t be solved alone. Climate change, racism, ethnic strife, gender inequality, the failure of global markets to provide prosperity and their ability to accelerate inequality, the darksides of technological transformation – can’t be solved only locally though that has to be where it starts.
As John Donne once said, No man is an island, entire of itself. Any man’s death diminishes me. Because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
I believe in liberalism: I believe in liberty, equality, social justice, free press, free markets (the Adam Smith definition), freedom of religion, minority rights, feminism, etc. Facts are real. There’s an America and a rest of the world worth fighting for, and I’ll be ready to re-join The Resistance when I’m back.
Image from AngryAsianMan
Ending the day on a negative ranty note inspired by Uber’s CTO Thuan Pham, a refugee.
Among the most bleak conversations I’ve had are with Asian Americans, because FUN FACT: a huge portion if not the outright majority of Asians in America of my generation are here because people directly or indirectly were fleeing authoritarian consequences, not because of some “hoo rah we’re gonna have freedom! MURICA” but no like literally not sure if they could feed their families, could get killed, or if there was a future at the end of the road in varying degrees of hopelessness and horror.
This is a story we know: Mao Zedong and his revolutions, Pol Pot the Khmer Rouge, Ferdinand Marcos and his kleptocracy, Chiang Kai-Shek and his thugs (of which I’m descended from and take open ownership of that), Le Duan after the Fall of South Vietnam, Kaysone Phomvihane and the Pathet Lao, Suharto’s Corrupt Fist in Indonesia, Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship, and I’m probably missing a whole lot more.
America had immigration policies that favored our labor. So people came as the dishwasher, the laundryman, the bodega owner, the seamstress, the cooks, the scientists, the doctors, and generally the hustlers who ventured into the great unknown with promises of security and prosperity. And some came unwilling as refugees because of the American wars in Southeast Asia.
I know we might be all seem to same to you, but someone in my age bracket who was born here or came here as a young child came from a very different Asias than the current denizens of the Asia Modern – one whose fever dreams now elude us.
We continue to inhabit very different Asian Americas in terms of ethnicities, stories, and socio-economic conditions.
Before the Syrian refugee crisis, Asians were the people on the boats people were pushing away, and a generation before, fleeing Jews were rejected from safe harbor, lest we forget.
The joke is now “whoops buyers remorse, we came here precisely not for this shit. And these spoiled ‘Americans’ (we’re spoiled Americans now too, but we remember a time we weren’t) have no idea what they’re facing. Now might we might have to try to horde gold and live like peasants, again, hahaha so funny joke’s on us!” Dude, literally here not to be about that life, but you know what, we have learned how to survive and thrive and make very little into something.
There’s a lot of talk in leftist circles in America about “the revolution,” and there’s always been this uncomfortable moment because a lot of Asians tend to be like “Nah tho, I don’t know about that tho because we almost all died before. I’ll take those sensible trade policies, thanks.”
It’s a primal thing, our collective past saw what real revolutions were like and it didn’t end up well for most regular people. Now all over the West, we’re the living undead, reanimated bits of imagined communities combined with the aspirational hopes of Barack Obama’s America, doomed to wander in distant lands we now call home speaking in strange tongues devoted to making a buck.
This is a cynicism that will probably be imprinted on us for generations to come, though I hope our grandchildren will never know our strife. This is why I think I grew up around a community focused so long on just making money, freeing our minds with education, and basking in the comforts of family, food, tradition, and safety.
People didn’t have much else till recently, which is why you see all these mass movements places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea now, because this new world of justice, rule of law, and universal rights, is well, is still new, still precious, and still not taken for granted with not one generation removed from darkness of poverty and autocracy. And aren’t we always only one generation from that?
It’s unpleasant for us to watch this begin to repeat itself in our new home and also know we’re probably easy scapegoats for something or another, the uncomfortable wedge group, the “model minority” despised both by Whites and other minorities. This shit could blow up in our face because it has before. Refuge fail. (I’m bullish on California tho.)
Tho gotta say for the record, we tried to warn you with the wisdom and paranoia bequeathed to us from our collective history and outsider status. And most People of Color tried to save yo trifling asses in the election. With depleted voting rights coming our way, I wouldn’t put all my hopes on another election by the way.
I don’t have an original line to close, so may the odds be ever in your favor.
*If any references may have confused you- please see NPR CodeSwitch’s episode on the Explanatory Comma.
This is a piece I’ll be submitting for the Mini-Anthology on Experiences of the Taiwanese Diaspora. Doing some thinking on it here:
ashes to ashes dust to dust
From the moment I hit the shore at Taoyuan Airport, every interaction becomes a delicate dance of code switching fraught with identification, alienation, and intimacy.
I’m a fat American, but when I speak Mandarin it sounds I came from here. Even with the American accent creeping in, it’s not enough for people to try to speak English to me. There’s recognition. She belongs to us. Like misplaced property.
Even without the accent, there’s an inflection. One of unbridled confidence, even arrogance, of someone who was raised to believe she would inherit the world. The Ugly American inside of me.
There’s also another rhythm to my voice that’s defiance. It creeps in when I’m with people from San Gabriel Valley or places like the Sunset District in San Francisco or Elmhurst, Queens. The voice I speak with when I’m not with White folk, a voice dripping with a hip hop swagger, a SoCal drawl, and a Chicano melody.
Rapper Bohan Phoenix calls himself, “Too foreign for here. Too foreign for home.” In America, some part of me never feels right. Sometimes I feel like an alien, even among other Asians. I don’t feel their need to fit into Whiteness. I already know I’m American, but as Pharrell declares, “i am OTHER.”
The customs officer sizes me up and sees the dozens of “Republic of China” stamps. Unlike for some others like me, she speaks to me in Chinese as she waves me through.
I get into a taxi and head to the Daan District. My relatives all live in New Taipei City, but I like my privacy and freedom to wander in my yearly escape back into another reality. An alternative destiny that never came to be.
I shift in the seat. I steady my speech for the inevitable political conversation with the cab driver. To not sound like a disconnected arrogant snob ABC because that’s not who I want to be.
I’m always shifting the way I speak. Sometimes I try to downshift the more 標準 Mandarin, peppering the pathetic amount of Taiwanese phrases I know when appropriate, whatever I learned when I lived in Taipei and from my Taiwanese friends growing up in LA (born and raised) because my 外省人 family don’t speak it. I think I want to affirm I’m related. This island, this country, is where I started from.
I remember arriving back in New York once after a trip to Los Angeles, on a visit back to my part of it, of what was called Little Taipei growing up. I opened my phone to figure out the best way to get home and instinctively opened Waze and chuckled. I had spent last weeks in LA on freeways, but I was back in the land of subways.
I switched to Google maps to check train times while walking through the cacophonous internationalism and diversity that is NYC on an extraordinarily beautiful night. I thought to myself how I always wanted to be a global citizen despite inclinations for tribalism. I rep LA I say. 626 I say. But a part of my heart always craves for Taiwan though. Irrationally, insatiably, like pining for a secret lover.
To be Taiwanese American is to be a lot of things at once. I constantly travel and move in different circles. Jumping place to place space to space. I wake up to Monocle24 radio, stream Power106 during the day, and listen to 臺北之音 Hitoradio at night.
Even though I can read Chinese fluently, all I’ve really do with it is order a lot of food and read Taiwanese design blogs. Occasionally, when I feel like re-visiting teenage angst, I’ll look up old videos of rapper 宋岳庭, a man who grew up so much like me. In a long ago AzN scene full of parachute kids in pool halls, long before I could imagine a life as a global citizen living as a yuppy in New York City as a wannabe ad executive. I put on different clothes, talk with a different accent, speak in a different language, change different IDs and transit cards out of my wallet all without thinking. Feeling like an emotional immigrant, not quite real and definitely not down.
But in a way, isn’t it a fitting if not poetic part of being a daughter of the Orphan of Asia?
British Indian writer Nikesh Shukla describes himself of having three voices. A White People Phone Voice. The one I speak at work. One of a native tongue, for me, a now Taiwanese version of Mandarin my family brought to Taiwan with the KMT with my unwilling American intonations. One of your normal voice. For People of Color, this is how talk to each other. It is our true voice. My true voice. One I fight to keep.
On one side of my office sits young agency staffers from Asia, mostly China and India, on the other side a bunch of White Americans who are up the payscale. I don’t quite fall in the Asian or White category in the office hierarchy, nor do I try to play that game. I speak loudly in my clipped Taiwanese Chinese with the American accent but also talk about how race in a way that can make White people feel so damn uncomfortable.
I grew up in a Taiwanese-American neighborhood, but these days my friends are mostly People of Color that run the gamut. When I lived in LA I’d go hang out with my Black friends in one area, go to house parties with White people in another, but mostly stayed in my Asian and Latino neighborhood. Some might call me a cultural chameleon, but it’s weird, but I think that’s the Taiwanese experience to some extent.
Of living always as an outsider, but someone who moves past borders, real and invisible. My adaptability has sometimes made me wonder if I’m a plastic person. Sometimes I feel like I’m selling out or that I’m being a faker. When I have these thoughts I often pine for a lost paradise in the form of Formosa where I don’t really fit in either. After the Brexit, I wondered if it’s a way I deal with the fact that we will never really be home or belong in the West. Craving it like first love that got away that’s easy to idealize later on, asking myself where do I really stand in my relationship with this land.
Every year I make this trip, these thoughts repeating like scratches on a turntable. I move to the beat. But then when the plane lands and I walk on the jet bridge with the humidity hitting me, something primal stirs with me and stays with me. The flesh and blood my people in the air.
One distinctive memory of when I lived in Taipei as an adult was putting my grandfather to rest. I have no clear memories of him to speak of since I grew up in America. I knew he carried my family across the strait. He would end up with Taiwanese-speaking grandchildren, not that I’m entirely sure he liked that. Our dark blue blood has teetered into a shade of aquamarine. Of being a part of a Taiwanese generation that defines our identity with our values and recent shared history, rather than the official mythology of any party.
I remember seeing all the different people in different garbs of mourning, the white sack clothes of others and the black robes my family wore, of the respect and solemnity of sending our ancestors to their final resting places. I remember the endless smoke bellowing out of the dead of my people at the crematorium, as if 媽祖 were beckoning us to return to the land and sea. I remember scooping the bones and the ashes into the urn.
I’ve morbidly thought to myself that when I depart from this earth I didn’t necessarily want a 靈骨塔, for my ashes to sit in a cupboard or to be the ground. I want to be scattered into the Pacific, so I’ll drift in the sea between California and Taiwan.
ashes to ashes dust to dust
On that day, I felt such a profound connection and loyalty to the land, even though it’s likely I’ll spend out the rest my days living in the West.
That profound connection and loyalty has felt more urgent in the last few weeks.
The irony is not lost upon me that my family left Taiwan partially for the promises of freedom after a life of autocracy, but the bonds of affection would never break.
Who knew two short decades later Taiwan would destroy the notion that democracy, free thought, and Chinese culture are incompatible, despite the incessant claims from the PRC, and transform into a prosperous liberal democracy.
Who knew three decades later the United States would lean into fascism and authoritarianism while simultaneously putting Taiwan’s fragile peace at risk? I want to destroy the One China Policy, but we’re nothing more than an asterisk to the world, a nuisance to be dealt with.
A place used as a bargaining chip, a nation refused recognition, and a people defiant against erasure. There’s a certain humiliation and anger a lot of us Taiwanese carry, even those of us “lucky ones” who ended up in America.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s part of why I end up seeing Taiwanese Americans involved in social movements in unexpected places even though we have incentives to keep our heads down and align with those in power, even butting heads with other Asian Americans who believe we should.
We’re one of the wealthiest and most educated groups in the country. While some do chose to forget the past and assimilate into second-class Whiteness, there are so many of us who decide not only to honor what we come from, but also to align with Black Lives Matter, against DAPL, for the DREAMERs, for the refugees, for LGBT rights, for environmental justice, and other causes rather than saying, “That’s not our problem. We should let just make money, enjoy a simple life, and not think too much.” Nothing more Taiwanese love to say than 不要想太多. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism after all we’ve collectively been through.
For some of us though, I think that constant inner tremor of anger and humiliation sparked a clarion call for justice rather than a capitulation to fear and amnesia.
Shawna Ryan Yang said she wrote the book Green Island because she wanted to dispel the myth that Taiwan’s transition to democracy was bloodless. It took decades of will, suffering, and work. It will continue to. Now I wonder if it’s our turn to fight. Given what has happened to the United States and its implications for Taiwan as well, I suddenly feel what I imagine must been a tip of that incredible burden of what people before me must have felt. To realize what they might have to sacrifice to save their country, the very being of who they are. To speak in all the voices than can be spoken to be free. For me, it’s for Taiwan and for America.
When I exit the cab in Taipei I say 多謝. I stop to breath in the thick humid air again. I relish in hearing the voices and accents of the people around me. I feel the ground of home beneath my feet, and even though where I am may shift, the earth and air of this place is always with me. Its history and values forever bound to me: the blood, ashes, and the sacrifices for now and for the future.
ashes to ashes dust to dust
Internet rabbit-holing and can’t believe this recently made doc exists. A snapshot in time of a subculture within a subculture – that singular moment of Taiwanese-Americans in 90s and early 00s LA where the children of an aspiring class in a then still third world country coming up basically ended up as a bunch of wannabe hoodlums or actual hoodlums, the people who didn’t roll with the model minority whiz kids and threw punches instead, influenced by the worries and insecurities of Taiwan’s political transformations, Black and Chicano hip hop culture, struggles with racism, and absent or disconnected families.
The short film, Parachute Kids captured this feeling well:
Another, Byron Q’s Bang Bang, captured the complexities of class within that experience:
Shawn Sung was way before his time – way ahead of what Jin was doing on 106 & Park and MC Hotdog rapping about how hot Taiwanese girls are (no hate to Jin or MC Hotdog with this) – this culture existed with much smoother flows and meaning, he’s still being venerated in 2016. Shawn Sung (and also have to name check Drunken Tiger who was doing something similar in Korean across town in the West Side of Los Angeles) were doing their thing under any mass cultural radar.
He unabashedly criticized a lot of the hypocrisy of Taiwan’s music industry and culture but also declared early into the sentiment of what has involved into the current polyglot Californian identity – one of the lyrics in one of his mixtapes that survived after his death was “Hey 大家(everybody)，I put it down for the la raza.”
I’ve become a lot more sensitive to the way people speak in the last year, and I love the jumble of languages and accents in this doc that sound like many homes. The farther I go from where I came from, the more clarity I have to how important the source is.
I wish he had lived to see and continued to influence what we have transformed into as a people here and across the Pacific.
I want to clarify something for those people who wondering about my unending rage and fear about the election, as if it needed to be substantiated further.
Not Black, Muslim, Latino, or LGBT, why you so angry and worried Bessie? Just so upset over an authoritarian danger to our country built on hate? An unqualified sexual predator beating out the most qualified woman in history, who actually did win?
Well there is one more wrinkle, I’m Taiwanese-American.
Taiwan is a functioning vibrant democracy, an island off the coast of China, one that is in fact a few legislative sessions away from legalizing Gay Marriage and a female President. Irony.
Taiwan really only exists as not subjugated by China, although China constantly threatens us, because of post WW2-era Defense Agreements with the US, they don’t take the next step. Taiwan was known as “Free China,” though its people were hardly free, and used as a staging ground in the Vietnam War by the United States.
Taiwan became something else than the People’s Republic of China, aka China, after the remnants of the Kuomingtang or Nationalist government lost the Chinese Civil War, went there and took over, and after decades of struggle against that authoritarian rule, Taiwan is a liberal democracy that in many ways resembles the Nordics. This is a long complex history here that I’m trying to shorten into a few sentences.
And that is my flesh and blood, and despite all my Americanness — I was born and raised in LA and am now a proud NYC resident, blood is thick- Taiwan is my friends and family, everything I came from. So maybe there is an added wrinkle in my fear, because it’s two nations that I’m fearing and fighting for now.
I’ve heard a lot from immigrant like like me stock mock them these “White Working Class folk” (this is a false profiling of the Trump vote by the way, which would not have been won with the support of well-off White people and that ignoring non-Working class White people did not do the same) in frustration (now you know) and anger at their racism and willingness to act on it.
“They got beaten out by people who crossed oceans and deserts, some with no money and no English, who managed to carve out their American dreams.”
And now they could threaten those we left behind in the old country too? Can you blame me for being being like, fuck that and fuck them? The only reason why I’d advocate for policies to help them is insurance to pacify them so they don’t ruin everything.
So now you know.