passage to taiwanese america

Taiwan shaped cookies baked by Hanna Huang

When I received an email in January from Ho Chie Tsai, founder of the popular website TaiwaneseAmerican.org, little did I know that I would soon find passage into the world of Taiwanese America. I was relatively unaware that the Taiwanese community in the U.S. is a growing and vibrant populace that reaches across the states, branching into Canada and other countries outside of Taiwan. It all began with an article Ho Chie wrote and posted on TaiwaneseAmerican.org about my adoption journey and, at that time, impending reunion with my birth family in Taiwan. I couldn’t be more thrilled about this inception into my birth culture, having ignored its existence for far too long.

Last weekend, I attended the North American Taiwanese Women’s Association (NATWA II) 24th Annual Convention in Milpitas, CA. I had never heard of the organization until recently, but am beyond excited to have connected with so many other Taiwanese American women, 1st and 2nd generation! The event was coordinated by Jen Kuo, Deana Chuang, and Joann Lo. College students, graduate students, and professionals attended from all across the U.S. and Canada. There were several mothers and daughters. Over the course of the weekend, I met 2 women from Tuscon, AZ. It’s nice to know that there are other Taiwanese American women in AZ!

I was invited to participate in a speaker’s panel at the convention with 2 other women, Victoria Linchong, actress, writer, producer and director and Marilyn Fu, screenwriter. I had such a blast getting to know both women, so bright and talented! Victoria is currently working on directing a film project called Almost Home: Taiwan, a feature length documentary about Taiwan’s struggle for democracy as told through the perspective of a family who return to Taiwan. Marilyn recently wrote a screenplay called The Sisterhood of Night, a narrative film project and story about “how teens connect with each other through art, friendship, and the power of secrets.” One of the teen characters portrayed in her film is Taiwanese American.

The speaker’s panel was a lot of fun. The room was packed full of 1st and 2nd generation attendees. We each answered a series of questions related to mother/daughter relationships and what it was like being raised Taiwanese in America. I talked mostly about what it was like to be raised Taiwanese in a white family (although I didn’t know I was Taiwanese until I was 40 years old!), and how my sense of racial and cultural identity has developed slowly along my journey. I was a little nervous at the beginning of our panel, especially because I didn’t want to go too long in my responses, as we answered each question individually. I brought along a powerpoint slideshow of pictures of my adoptive family and of the reunion with my birth family. I was so surprised and encouraged by the incredible show of support I felt after speaking about “my long journey home.” It was amazing and felt like a huge welcome home.

Deana Chuang and Tammy Chang

The weekend was packed with roundtables, keynote speeches and performances! Ho Chie was one of the keynote speakers on Saturday morning. He gave an impressive presentation on “Nurturing the Next Generation of Taiwanese America: Past Successes, Present Challenges, and New Horizons.” Ho Chie is an amazing speaker and has made it his personal mission to inspire young people to make an impact by discovering their values and passions. He spoke of the influence of the 1st generation Taiwanese and formation of community organizations, the growth of 2nd generation Taiwanese Americans who are paving the way for community and identity in mainstream America, and how we all play a role in defining the future of Taiwanese America as the 3rd generation grows up. I enjoyed participating in the “Learn your Love Language” roundtable facilitated by Michi Fu and Monique Hawthorne and found it so interesting that no matter what culture you come from, no family is perfect and we’re not so different cross-culturally. Although I grew up in a white household in comparison to the other Taiwanese women present who grew up in more traditional Taiwanese households, our parents shared similar communication styles – for the most part, our parents were not very communicative or expressive, and rarely, if ever, communicated words of affirmation. We had a great time discussing and laughing about our own love languages and getting to know each other in our small groups.

Saturday evening, each chapter of NATWA (1st generation women) gave a performance, including NATWA II. I have to admit, I steered clear of participating in the NATWA II skit, but the volunteers who did participate were quite entertaining!

Perhaps one of the best parts of the convention was going out to eat with all the NATWA II ladies! Other than the Taiwanese food I ate in Taiwan, I have not been exposed to much Taiwanese cuisine, so the girls made sure that I sampled plenty! We were right next to an Asian plaza with numerous Chinese and cross cultural restaurants. I was completely stuffed the whole weekend!

The convention went by entirely too fast. I feel like I was just getting to know everyone when it was time to come back home and wish that I had stopped to take more pictures. It seems that I have added to my family 30 something new Taiwanese American sisters. I’m already looking forward to next year’s convention in Los Angeles and am planning to take my family along. One of the things I appreciated most about the convention was how welcomed I felt into the Taiwanese American community, at least into the community of women and families who attended. It felt like a true sisterhood. For so long, I didn’t know that I was Taiwanese. It’s almost like a part of me was missing, though I could never quite put my finger on what exactly it was before. During a conversation I had recently with a friend, I told her that there are many different pieces of my identity. At one time, I believed that I was part Vietnamese and Japanese, but tried so hard to be white. Now that I’ve discovered what my true cultural roots are, the pieces are  beginning to fit. There will always be a part of me that’s a southern girl from Bossier City, LA. I love my family back in LA, my sister and her kids. Another part of my identity, the one that I rejected for so many years, has finally emerged. That part of me would like to go back to Taiwan one day to see my biological sisters again and to get to know the country better. I would also love to get to know some of the women I met at the convention better. There’s always next year in LA!

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