2007 Tour Essay

My Cultural Awakening
by Vivian Wang

“Oh my gosh! You have such small feet!” Upon encountering my great-grandmother, these were the first thoughts that emerged in my already chaotic mind, filled with various Taiwanese greetings and compliments I had memorized. When the doorknob turned and the double-wooden front doors opened, I prepared to greet my great grandmother with a resounding “How are you doing great-grandmother?,” but when I met her, my eyes were immediately drawn to those miniscule feet. Did they even make them that size anymore? I was so flustered upon meeting my great-grandmother’s feet, that I did not open my mouth for fear of calling her my great foot-mother. Meeting my great grandmother introduced me to the heritage I was unfamiliar with and piqued my interest in a culture that is very much a part of me despite my lack of identification in the past.

Growing up, I attended a countless number of Taiwanese Association and FAPA events but to me, these were parties where I could mingle with other children my age, not events where I could learn and share my cultural identity with other TG2's (Taiwanese Generation 2.) After entering college, I joined our collegiate Taiwanese student group, Taiwanese Cultural Society. Because I had never identified myself culturally as Taiwanese while growing up, meeting so many students who did identify as Taiwanese triggered a necessity for me to be a part of an organization in order to learn more about my culture. To other people, it seems almost bizarre to be a second generation Taiwanese - a certain ethnicity - yet know so little about its culture and language. As my college career progressed, my desire to learn about the culture, history, and politics of Taiwan increased, especially with the impending election (an election that will affect American politics and relations with China and Taiwan). Many of my memories from Taiwan were reconstructed from pictures of my only visit to Taiwan when I was in the third grade. And while the experience was fun, I thought of it as a vacation, and the significance of the visit was lost on me.

After being accepted by the Tsunah Foundation, I resolved to gain my own perspective and opinion about the culture, politics, and history of Taiwan and to improve my Taiwanese. I flew to Taiwan a week before the program started to take this opportunity to spend time with about 30 of my relatives. While I was there, I spent time with my cousins and uncles and aunts and talked to them about their perspectives on the politics of Taiwan. I was shocked when I arrived because my expectation of the standard of living was very much like a modern, contemporary metropolis - which was not the case. My expectation of Taiwan was much like what Taipei was, but the rest of Taiwan was much different. I soon came to realize that much of my own perceptions of Taiwan represented Taipei, but not the rest of Taiwan.

I went with my cousin to Ming-Chhuan University, where she guided me through Shilin Night Market and taught me how to bargain with the merchants. I had the chance to spend time with my relatives and their neighbors, where I was able to learn first-hand about Taiwanese culture, life, way of thinking, and future outlook of the country from their perspective. During that time, I also had the opportunity to share my own experiences from the United States and my impression of Taiwan. I discovered that many people I talked to are struggling with their own views and identities about the nation. In addition, I found that while they struggle to understand the ideology and vision of their political leaders, they are reluctant to consider the potential impact elections could have on Taiwan’s identity. In the United States, many Americans look for realistic outcomes to the political process instead of relying on empty promises offered by politicians. However, in Taiwan, the citizens’ ideology seems to be a salient topic only during the political campaign process.

I soon joined the tour and felt more at home with other TG2's who were in Taiwan for many of the same reasons that I was. Throughout my time in Taiwan, we traveled all over Taiwan; to Night Markets, a national park, Ilan's Water Park, temples, The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, Taiwan National Palace, an Aboriginal center and museum, Taipei 101, and other historical buildings. The tour was a systematic method of teaching us about the accomplishments, industry, religion, culture, night life, politics and standard of living in Taiwan. Over the course of the tour, I observed a political struggle between the parties that was not just a current struggle, but a struggle that has lasted for more than a century. While talking to my relatives, it seemed as if they knew who they wanted to vote for, but most of them did not know why. This was surprising because the political future of Taiwan is essential to the everyday lives of Taiwanese. Regardless of which party the Taiwanese vote for, it is important to develop a national identity. Rather than viewing themselves as a member of the DPP or KMT Party, it is critical that the people view themselves as Taiwanese above any political affiliation and consider the future of their country.

During my stay with my relatives, friends from school, and tour members, I experienced the large gap in standard of living between the rich and the poor. I learned about the accomplishments of the Taiwanese government in the past years as well as what lies ahead. I also am beginning to understand the struggle Taiwanese face with their identity. Because of this tour, I realize that there is a lot I can do to fulfill my desire to reconnect with my heritage while helping Taiwan. Seeing the current struggle Taiwan faces with China and becoming a part of world politics, I will try to actively participate in the grassroots movement, educating people about Taiwan. I am proud to be a Taiwanese-American and hope to convey that to other TG2's; encouraging them to strive for what's best for our nation. I am confident that interactive communication between Taiwanese-Americans as well as the younger generation Taiwanese will strengthen our dedication to this great cause and further encourage and develop our understanding and support for Taiwan.


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Last updated: 08/07/2009