Tag Archives: Identity

second grade adoptee

The smell of coffee drifts down the hallway to the back of the house, into my bedroom. It is a familiar smell and signals that morning is nigh. I burrow beneath the warmth of my covers, not wanting to get up. It is a cold, wet winter in Louisiana. Daddy’s alarm went off some minutes ago. What dreadful song woke me this morning? Sneaky Snake goes dancing wiggling and a-hissing…Ahh. That stupid Sneaky Snake song. Oh, how I hate that song and KRMD country radio. Daddy likes waking up to music rather than beeping. In the distance, the rev of B-52s pierces the air. Now that is a more tolerable sound. Barksdale Air Force base is just miles from our home, right down Barksdale Boulevard. Sometimes the engines sound like a loud crack, whipping across the sky, but mostly, it’s like a slow, steady growl. Daddy once flew B-52s. That was before the aneurysm. There are big pictures of them framed and hanging down our hallway. He was a pilot in the Air Force. I don’t know much about that, except I like looking at the giant missile that greets you as you enter the air base and shopping with Mom at the BX. Occasionally, the echoing horn of a train passes through the morning. These are the sounds I’ve grown accustomed to.

Mom peeks into my bedroom, dressed and ready for work. “Time to get up,” she chimes. This occurs a few more times until I begrudgingly slide out of bed. I dread school. At least this morning, a neighbor will drive me and her daughter to Sun City Elementary, and I won’t have to walk. I hate walking to school in the cold. Occasionally, my parents remind me how easy I have it because, apparently, they walked 20 miles to school everyday in the ice and snow. Humph.

I crunch on Frosty Flakes for breakfast. Sometimes when Daddy is getting me ready for school, he lets me eat ice cream. When it comes time to leave, Mom zips up my bulky, winter jacket. Her breath smells like cigarettes and coffee, but I hold perfectly still as she ties the strings of my winter beanie tightly beneath my chin. I feel like a rollie pollie. I’m sure I look like one, too. Finally, I put on my woolly mittens and trudge down the street to our neighbor’s. The cold air tears at my face, and I watch the misty vapor of my breath curl slowly upward.

The neighbor’s home is warm. I sit on the couch in the dimly lit living room as the family flurries about. I feel tired and eek out a yawn. The Frosty Flakes are starting to sour in my tummy. I wish I could just stay home. Finally, we pile into the neighbor’s car. Sun City Elementary is just a few blocks away. It is a small, pinkish-red brick building with a big playground right next to Parkway High School. An American flag is hoisted up a tall metal pole and waves in the wind. Upon entering the building, it is hard not to miss Mr. Varnell’s big, wooden paddle displayed on the wall for all to see, just beyond the glass panes of the front office window. Mr. Varnell is the school principal. He always wears a tie.

I walk to home room in Ms. Dent’s class. My stomach doesn’t feel good. I feel as though I might get sick. Fear presses down on me, and I ask Ms. Dent if she can have the office call my mom to come get me. She looks at me, brows furrowed. She is very pretty, but her eyes say “not again.” She wonders if I’m faking it. “Go back to your seat, and let’s see if you feel better in a little while.” She pushes me gently towards my desk. I comply, but feel my stomach turn flips, and my head is spinning. I sit at my desk, my eyes filling with tears. I do my best to hide them.

It’s time to change classes. I guess Mom will not be coming to get me today. I feel heavy and invisible at the same time. I walk to Mrs. Earp’s Math class. There is nothing more I hate about school than math class besides feeling like I’m different from everyone else. Learning five’s and ten’s using those stupid popsicle sticks never makes any sense, and equations are confusing, far beyond my understanding. Mrs. Earp’s marker squeaks across the screen of the overhead projector as she draws numbers and symbols. The sound always fills me with anxiety. I drift in and out, afraid to raise my hand to ask Mrs. Earp to explain the equations. I cannot wait for class to be over.

Down the hall to Language Arts. I like reading and writing and very quickly learn that I excel at similes and metaphors. After finishing my handwriting assignment, I ask my teacher to work on similes and metaphors for extra credit. There is a table set off in the front of the classroom. Atop it is a box filled with cardboard activity cards. I pull one out and start working. “My dog is as smelly as dirty socks.” Simile. Completing these activities is like a game, and I always score perfectly. I don’t see many other kids ask to work on similes and metaphors.

It is now time for Music class. I wish that Music class met everyday. Ms. McConnell, the music teacher, is nice to me, but she sure does get mad at students who misbehave. What a lovely singing voice she has. “Sing, sing a song. Sing out loud, sing out strong...” We all sing in unison with Ms. McConnell as she strums her guitar. Singing is the only time I raise my voice voluntarily in class. In Reading earlier in the day, I stumbled while reading out loud, “Run, Jane…r-r-r-u-n. S-e-e-e J-a-ne r-r-un.” I felt embarrassed. I know that I can read perfectly fine. My teacher did not utter a word when I was done. She called on Tony and praised him for reading with such inflection. Why can’t I get it right? I am different. I am not as smart. I am the quiet one who gets sick to her stomach everyday. I am a ghost existing in world when no one understands me.

At the end of the school day, I walk home, rather unhappily and numb. It is still cold, but slightly warmer than the chilly morning. The sky is a stormy gray, but the sidewalks are dry now. I walk straight home, anticipating a cozy fire to warm up to. Mom is home, still dressed in her white nursing uniform. I am home at last, unbothered by people, sights and sounds. Mom makes me a Natchitoches meat pie before I start in on homework. The smell of hot oil and fried things makes my tummy growl. I am happy to be home. I sit quietly at the table, relishing my savory meat pie. It is the best thing that has happened all day.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

fame

MjWhen I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a famous actress. I had this little silver crown that my mom brought home from a New Year’s Eve party, and I’d set that atop my head, put on my little white crocheted poncho and pretend that I was being interviewed. My mom would peer into my bedroom and ask who I was talking to. I was inspired by old musicals. My favorites were The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and An American in Paris. There was also a young girl whom I idolized, the daughter of my second piano teacher. The girl was very pretty and participated in lots of beauty pageants. I mean, this kid had a display of trophies that filled half her bedroom. I remember seeing her perform in a play with my Brownie troop and thinking, “I could do that.” I was far too shy though to really pursue acting. In college, however, I auditioned for a small part in a play called Open Admissions by Shirley Lauro. It was during my sophomore year. The role was for a a character named Kitty Shim, an 18-year old Korean college student. I was a shoe in, as I was the only Asian, female or male, in my entire college. I learned an accent by going to a local Chinese restaurant and talking to a waitress. I even recorded our conversation on cassette tape. Isn’t that funny. The student who played Ginny, one of the leads in the play, was very kind and later told me  that she thought I  had talent. She was in a number of plays performed at Centenary College’s Marjorie Lyons Playhouse. I held onto that compliment, and it opened up a whole new fascination that I wanted to explore.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey

Oaplaybillcover-originalWe took Open Admissions to Regionals that year, and I received a small, but positive review for my role. Later, I participated in a theater student’s class assignment, playing the role of Lady Roxane in a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac. It was just me and a guy in the scene. I was told that the theater department director gave me positive remarks. I remember feeling so nervous about that and relieved by the words of encouragement. I was bitten by the acting bug and eventually auditioned for other plays. Performing on stage was euphoric. Unlike a piano performance, I didn’t feel pressure to perform perfectly. Any mistakes or memory lapses at the keyboard meant failure. Perhaps that’s why to this day, I struggle with performance anxiety. I never landed any leading roles, just minor parts, I think primarily because I didn’t know anything about acting and probably wasn’t that skilled. Furthermore, I was terribly insecure, and did I mention shy? I wasn’t capable of showing very much emotion. Most of that came from deep-rooted identity issues that I was not even conscious of at the time. I hardly felt comfortable in my own skin.

After college, I taught piano for awhile in a couple of after-school programs at St. Mark’s Episcopal and a Baptist church in Shreveport. A year later, I moved to Florida where I began taking acting classes. It was such a fun, reckless period in my life. I had a college degree in music, yet was waiting tables at Friday’s. And, I was really the worst waitress ever. It’s almost embarrassing how bad I was. I auditioned for commercials, community theater and dancing roles at Disneyland. Eventually, I auditioned for a Studio Tour Guide position at Universal Studios Orlando, which was just being built at the time. There was a grand opening with lots of celebrities weeks later. I was so excited when I got the position. Then came memorizing a very large script. My peers and I spent hours performing, improvising and critiquing each other in preparation for giving studio tram tours. I was in a group of other “want-to-be” actors and became friends with many of them. We had such a blast working together. I was an idealistic, naive young woman with a lot of ambition, but not a lot of smarts. And it was a time of great freedom. I was landing roles in commercials and community theater, waiting for my “big break.” That arrived when I got a bit part in a made-for-television movie, which earned me my SAG card. No, I never saw the movie and am not sure that it ever aired. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue acting. I did not get very far. My priorities changed after getting involved in a church and meeting my husband. For someone Asian with little experience and few substantial acting credits, it was difficult to get a callback amidst all the competition.

Sometimes I regret spending so much time chasing a dream that was way beyond my reach. “I should have just continued to teach piano. I should have continued my music studies,” I tell myself. I’ve come to realize that the desire to act stemmed from a need to be seen and heard. On stage, people see and listen to you. You’re literally center stage. And, you get immediate feedback from the audience – that connection was like a high. To cause someone to laugh or to feel something was extremely gratifying. I also loved the camaraderie that came from being part of a cast, a not so dysfunctional family. Growing up adopted, I did not have a voice. I didn’t know how to find my voice nor did I have the ability to identify my feelings or the trauma that caused some of my insecurities. I did not know how to connect with others in a meaningful way. I believed that acting would somehow give me the voice I lacked. I craved adulation, but what I really needed was self-acceptance. It would take years to grow that and a voice.

Although I’m much more comfortable with who I am and what I’m about, I’m still haunted by my own insecurities. To this day, I struggle with anxiety, disordered thinking around food and body image and self doubt. I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever. What I’ve learned is that the very things I sought in the past – status, achievement, beauty, a bigger paycheck, are the things that bring me the least amount of joy. It’s just taken me a Very long time to figure that out, and sometimes, it’s difficult to strike a healthy balance. Like you, I’m a work in progress. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back and audition for some community theater 🙂

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

 

extraordinarily ordinary life

I’ve been a little under the weather this week and out of the office. It’s nice to just laze around watching Netflix, drinking lots of hot tea. There is much value in slowing down, although I don’t recommend getting sick in order to do so. When I do get some down time, I often realize how fast life is going and that I’m spinning out of control. Do you ever have those moments? It’s at that time when I try to slow down and bring in things that are comforting. This morning, I tuned into the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast. Wow, so soul-inspiring and just what I needed. The song list included: 1) John Denver: “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” 2) Tom Adams: “In Darkness,” 3) Sharon Van Etten: “Come Back Kid,” 4: SOAK: “Everybody Loves You,” 5: Miya Folick: “THingaming,” 6) Jason Lytle: “Color of Dirt,” 7) J.S. Ondara: “American Dream.” I loved all of the songs, but the song that struck me most was John Denver’s.

Poems, Prayers and Promises” resonated with me deeply. Perhaps it has to do with getting older, but lately I’ve been giving much thought to the days of old, reflecting on motherhood, going to graduate school and even further back to high school and college. Reminiscing about what felt like easier times. When my daughter was growing up, I taught piano, primarily to young kids and a few adults, so I could be home with her. I often felt pressure to get a full-time job to supplement our household income, but I’m glad I didn’t. Life seemed slower, as being a mom was my primary role. My most favorite role ever. My daughter is now in college; I’m working full-time, working towards obtaining clinical licensure. The chapters related to raising a family have closed. New ones have opened, and honestly, I’m not particularly enjoying the new ones. On most days, it feels like a grind.

I guess it’s taken me this long to realize that graduate school was very idealistic, and I’m not sure it was worth all of the student loans. At times, actually often, I feel pretty disillusioned and tired. More importantly, I realize that all of the misplaced ambitions were to gain a sense of self worth, a sense of significance. After a lifetime of feeling invisible, one desires nothing more than to be seen and heard. To make a statement. To lead in some way. Adoptee stuff.

What I’m learning is that life is so much more valuable than achieving. It’s about enjoying and letting go of the stuff that brings you down. I’m still very much working on that. It doesn’t come easy. I wish that I could impress this upon my daughter, who is starting her life as a grown up. Our children learn the good and the bad from us, and I have certainly not always modeled how to manage stress and anxiety in healthy ways. She is doing so well, however, despite many challenges in her beautiful young life. I love her so. She has made all the difference.

Mothering has taught me a lot about life and love and ease. I guess that’s why I miss it so much, not that I don’t continue to mother, it’s just different now. It’s more about letting her take the wheel, trusting that even should she veer into the wrong lane, she will get back into the right lane, wiser. This is what I know: Hold the people and things you love the most close to your heart everyday. I would love to go back to Taiwan to see my birth family again. Alas, there are always obstacles. I hold them close to my heart, despite the distance.

There is something to be said and learned from achieving and making a difference. But life is short, and you cannot go back. Do what makes you happy, and don’t let naysayers dissuade you. Surround yourself with others who support you and your dreams because God knows, life is not easy. I wish that someone had told me these things when I was an impressionable young woman. I’ve worked hard since grad school. I truly hope that it has not all been in vain, as things that are most valuable do not come by way of a diploma or a degree or clinical hours. Life is precious. Your life is precious. Every single minute of it.

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

new podcast

Hsiao_Ling_H-Logo-Final-3000x3000It’s rare that I write two posts in a row these days! I wanted to share with you a new podcast I’m launching soon called Global Adoptee Talk, a podcast about the experiences of international and transracial adoptees around the globe. The podcast will feature 1:1 interviews with other international/transracial adoptees, and we’ll discuss topics related to international adoption, race/culture/identity, search and reunion, and mental health. Please stop by to visit my new site, GlobalAdopteeTalk.com.

And, please share the podcast with your adoption community! I’m off to work now…Thank you so much for visiting Global Adoptee Talk!

the photo of my birth mother

I finally framed the picture of my birth mother, which was given to me by my sisters in Taiwan. It was one of the first things they gave me at the airport once I arrived in Taipei. It’s a 5×7 black and white photo. My sisters laminated the picture to prevent any damage.

I used to think that my birth mother looked so solemn. She’s wearing a black mandarin collared jacket or shirt. Her hair is short and neat in the style of older women. Her eyes are a little downturned at the outer corners. I thought upon first seeing the picture that she appeared sad. She is not quite smiling, and I often wonder what my birth mother was thinking when the photo was taken. Oddly enough, I never asked my sisters how old she was at the time. I think that I was so overwhelmed with joy to have her picture and to see what she looked like that the thought didn’t cross my mind. My guess would be that she was somewhere in her fifties. My sisters told me that I look very much like our mother in her younger years. Unfortunately, there are no photos left of her when she was a young woman.

It’s a really odd feeling knowing that I was born to two people who I will never have an opportunity to meet. The story of why and how I was placed for adoption is a very sad one. Yet my sisters believe that my adoptive parents were angels and are very happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to be raised in a more affluent, stable environment. I understand why it happened the way it did. There are many privileges that I have received because I grew up in the U.S. in a middle class white family. My adoptive parents loved me very much, but there were many challenges, especially when I was a teenager. My parents were ill-prepared to parent an adoptee with identity issues.

I am happy that my sisters and family wanted to reunify. They have very big and generous hearts. The picture of my birth mother is now sitting in a place where I see it every morning. Framed, she appears happier, if only in my imagination, and it makes me smile.

my chinese roots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am that my second year in graduate school has just ended!  I’m now taking full advantage of some R & R. Over the summer, I plan to catch up on some reading. Before I explain more, I wanted to go back to my last post, “what’s in a name?“. I completed the paperwork to legally change my middle name to my given birth name, Hsiao-ling; however, upon filing the paperwork at the court, I was informed of a $340 fee attached to the process. I didn’t expect the fee to be so costly and will have to wait to finish this process at a later time. It’s truly disappointing.

Anyhow, I’m embarking on another small adventure. When I first learned about my true identity, I experienced many mixed emotions- shock, surprise, elation but I was also very confused. I know that my birthparents lived in Guangxi (广西), which is situated in the southern part of China. I don’t know when they moved to Taiwan, but know that I was born in Taipei in August 1966, the same month and year that China’s Communist leader, Mao Zedong, launched what became known as the Cultural Revolution. I also know that my birth father served in the military, but do not know to what capacity. I have so many questions, but the path to my past brings up very painful memories for my biological sisters. I am thankful for what my eldest sister was willing to share with me.

ghost brideI decided to take on a reading challenge and am reading books written by Chinese and Taiwanese authors, fiction and non-fiction, or books that depict Chinese culture or history over the summer. Although I was born in Taiwan, my birthparents were originally from China. I just finished reading “The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo. I loved the story – it is a work of fiction with elements of fantasy, folklore, and Chinese culture that I very much enjoyed reading. I learned about some of the superstitions and beliefs in Chinese folklore, especially in regards to the “afterlife” and honoring one’s ancestors. I found it overall to be a very fun and entertaining read. Currently I’m reading “Peony in Love” by Lisa See. See is not a Chinese author, however her works often describe some period of Chinese history and culture. The story is based on actual historical events and goes back to seventeenth-century China after the Manchus seize power and the end of the Ming dynasty. I cannot imagine living under such oppressive conditions for women, who basically had no rights.

good womenI’m concurrently reading “The Good Women of China: hidden voices” by Xinran. Xinran is a Chinese journalist/writer. In the book, she captures through oral histories the voices of several Chinese women, all anynomous, who lived during decades of civil strife in a painfully restrictive society. It is an incredibly moving book. The stories shared by these women with Xinran are heartbreaking. I chose to read this book in order to understand how things may have been for my birth mother, who also suffered many hardships. She lived in China most of her life. I hope to gain a better understanding of what life may have been like for her. Perhaps her story could have been one included in Xinran’s book, but I couldn’t be sure.

The other books that I hope to read over the summer include, “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love” also by Xinran; “When Huai Flowers Bloom: Stories of the Cultural Revolution” by Shu Jiang Lu; “A Dictionary of Maqiao” by Han Shaogong; “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie; “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Chang Jung, and “The Third Son” by Julie Wu, a Taiwanese American author. I don’t know if I’ll get to all of them, but I’m going to try. I’m sure that there are many other Taiwanese authors whom I don’t know of but have written wonderful books. Grace Lin has written several children’s books, one of which I purchased awhile back but have not yet read, “Dumpling Days.”

My roots go back to China where my birthfamily first lived. I don’t know our complete family history, but I think that their move to Taiwan was not under favorable conditions. And I know that their lives in Taiwan were extremely difficult. By summer’s end, I hope to understand a little more about Chinese culture and indirectly about my own biological family or at least what China was like when my birthparents were in their youth. Sadly, I will not be able to travel to Taiwan this year with my own family as I’d planned to visit my sisters and extended family. There’s always 2015 – I do hope I can go back to see my family in Taiwan then. Until then, I will strive to learn more about my origins through reading and research.

“don’t ____, or you’ll look puerto rican!” say what?

RLucasIt is with great pleasure that I introduce my dear friend and writer, Ruth Lucas, a long-time native of Long Island, New York. Ruth has accomplished something of great worth – she has completed her first novel, Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican! More about the title of the book in a moment. My husband and I have known Ruth and her husband, Eric, for nearly ten years. We met in church and quickly became friends. Ruth recently received her Master’s Degree in Psychology and is now in private practice as a Professional Consultant and Life Coach specializing in Relationships and Parenting (www.lucasseminars.com). The Lucas’ have been married almost 26 years and have a 21-year old son, Kyle, who currently resides in New York City. The family moved to Arizona from NY in 2001 just a few years before we did. It is Roo who got me hooked on Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, two of my favorite series of books. I remember watching the first couple of Harry Potter movies, as well as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in her living room nearly nine years ago! Boy, had I been missing out. We blazed through the Harry Potter series together, and waited in line like two giddy teenagers to see the midnight showing of The Return of the King. Yes, Ruth and I both enjoy a good book and a good movie! With a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism/Communications and her expertise in family and relationships, it was only a matter of time before Ruth authored her first book.

puertoricancvr2Now back to that book title. You see, Ruth has an interesting background. She is biracial – African American and Puerto Rican. You might think, what’s the big deal, but Ruth was raised in such an environment that she grew up rejecting one-half of herself, that is, one-half of her race and ethnicity. In her own words, Ruth explains,

Many people are biracial. Not many people are biracial AND raised by one parent who is actually prejudiced against the race and ethnicity of the other parent with whom they (WILLINGLY) chose to have sex … so much so that they raise his/her own biracial child to believe that half of him/her is intrinsically BAD. This is the story of a girl raised in that paradox; essentially primed to be conflicted throughout the process of developing her self-concept without the necessary self-esteem to do so in a healthy way! 

Are you intrigued? I certainly am. Ruth’s book is a work of fiction; however, her story touches on some serious issues – race relations, diversity issues, identity, acceptance and self-determination.

In her work, it is Ruth’s hope to,

… enlist the reader on a journey with the protagonist (Elle) – to join the protagonist in her quest to become self-determined as she periodically delves into her and her mother’s past to better understand what obstacles she needs to overcome.  It is intentional that the reader feel as confused and frustrated at times as Elle, but that he/she also realize that the onus falls on Elle to not blame those who raised her or her past, but to rise above what she learned in her youth and re-parent herself so she can be a whole and healthy individual with mature and functional coping mechanisms.

Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican! is a story about a young woman coming to terms with who she is, who she was raised to be and who she longs to become and was written from the perspective of an eye-witness. Ruth sent me a portion of her book recently. In just the first 50 pages, I was hooked, and no, I’m not just saying that. As a personal friend, I know so much about Ruth, yet I had to separate that, somewhat, from who I know her to be and the storytelling. The beautiful simplicity of Ruth’s prose is engaging, yet beneath that simplicity is a rich interweaving of a much deeper theme – a coming of age, a struggle for self-acceptance. It is a story relatable to anyone who has, at some time or another, questioned his or her identity. The book also gives you a feel for what it was like in 1960’s New York against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the clashes that occurred (and still do) across clearly demarcated socioeconomic, cultural and racial lines, which is one of the things I love most about the book so far.

Ruth Lucas’ debut novel, Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican!, can be pre-ordered for a limited period through Inkwell Productions at this link. Copies that are pre-ordered will be signed by the author and are expected to be released this Fall. I hope that you will join me in ordering your copy and embarking on a great reading adventure. In the meantime, check out Ruth’s new book blog. Congrats, dear Ruth, on your wonderful achievement!

at the heart and soul of taiwanese america

Ho Chie Tsai

Ho Chie Tsai

Last January, I had the privilege of connecting with Ho Chie Tsai, founder of Taiwanese American.org who, without a doubt, is making a huge impact in a special community that is not often recognized. I met Ho Chie after he stumbled across my blog and contacted me just before I reunited with my birth family in Taiwan. He is chiefly responsible for welcoming me into the Taiwanese American community.

Ho Chie founded TaiwaneseAmerican.org in 2006, a website featuring many of the interesting people, events and organizations that make up Taiwanese America. He is passionate about connecting individuals and promoting those who identify with the Taiwanese identity, culture, and heritage. As a community leader, Ho Chie launched the first Taiwanese American Students Club at his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also a member of the Taiwanese American Foundation (TAF) Board of Directors, a non-profit organization that hosts an annual summer conference for elementary and high school aged kids of Taiwanese descent. TAF is home away from home for many campers, alumni, and conference leaders who return year after year. I had the opportunity to experience part of the 2012 TAF conference as a speaker upon the invitation of Ho Chie, and I understood afterwards why so many return. The conference is more than just a “cultural camp.” It is a true community where character, leadership, identity, and genuine support of one another are nurtured. Recently, I caught up with Ho Chie and asked some questions about his role at TAF and his perspective on culture and identity. Read the full interview below and get to know Ho Chie, a man at the heart and soul of Taiwanese America. A big thank you to Ho Chie for taking the time to talk about TAF and what it means to be Taiwanese in America!

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a proud 2nd generation Taiwanese American on a mission to help young people discover their unique identities, explore personal passions, and realize their fullest potential. I am someone who believes that each of us has the power to make a lasting impact on the communities we care about and want to serve.

I am a frequent speaker at Taiwanese American and other Asian American conferences, and this opportunity to be an influential thought leader on various issues is something I don’t take for granted. In the Taiwanese American community, many know me as the founder of the website TaiwaneseAmerican.org, a portal site that highlights the amazing people, the numerous events, and the vibrant organizations that are relevant to our next generation. We see our mission as an important part of capturing and documenting the stories of our evolving community within the American historical context. Currently, TaiwaneseAmerican.org has the largest social media and web presence serving specifically the Taiwanese American community.

Professionally, I am a general pediatrician who lives and practices in and around the San Francisco Bay area. I do primarily urgent care and hospitalist work, and my schedule is flexible enough so that I can travel to various conferences and major events within the Taiwanese American community and work on projects for TaiwaneseAmerican.org. It’s almost as if I live two lives, but guided by a common personal mission.

How did you become involved with TAF?

Like many of the counselors, staff, and board members, I actually grew up with TAF, and because it impacted me in such a positive way, I continued to return year after year and assumed more responsibilities as I matured. Decades ago, I was a young high school student who attended because my parents “forced” me to go to this camp that they had heard of from their network of friends. Although I was resistant to the idea of attending an “Asian camp,” I quickly changed tunes once I discovered how open and welcoming the staff and other campers were. Connecting with so many other young Asian Americans helped me realize that the teenage issues I struggled with, through my experience of being Asian in America, was not mine alone. There was something comforting yet emboldening in understanding that my bi-cultural 2nd generation experience was, in fact, the common denominator for my fellow Taiwanese Americans.

HoChie2

In retrospect, it is so clear to me now what kind of impact it made on my life. As well-adjusted as I seemed to appear on the outside, in reality, I was a teen still searching for my personal identity and stronger sense of confidence. The atmosphere at TAF emanated a certain unconditional love and acceptance, and it changed me practically overnight. Unbelievable? Well, talk to many of the attendees, and many will share similar stories of their own. As I would learn over time, this environment and my experiences were not accidental. In fact, the core belief of “servant leadership,” or lifting others up and serving first, is a philosophy that the leaders at TAF have intentionally put into practice for over three decades. Effectively, it translates into excellent role modeling, influential leadership, and the creation of one of the most accepting and supportive communities I have ever seen. TAF has shaped my own personal mission and approach to life.

What is your role at TAF?

As I grew with TAF, the leaders who surrounded me and nurtured my teenage soul showed me that I could make a difference for others, too. After taking on some Coordinator level responsibilities during my high school years, I eventually took on the role of Junior (grade school) Program Director and served for about 10 years. By the time I was a college student, I was also invited to serve as a Board Member for this non-profit organization and have remained in that capacity to the present day. When I became a pediatrician, I assumed the role of Camp Physician. I have also been an occasional workshop facilitator or program speaker. During the past decade, I have actually been quite content just taking a more supportive role and learning from some of the most inspiring and dynamic speakers who guide the current generation of TAF campers–many of those speakers were once young kids in my Junior Program. They and so many “TAFers” who have ventured out into the real world with a servant leadership mentality have made me so proud to continue serving TAF today in any way I can.

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How many campers attend?

Each year since 1980, the week-long Taiwanese American Foundation summer conference draws approximately 160-180 youth, most of Taiwanese heritage or experience, from across the United States. These campers between the ages of 7 to 18 attend one of the three full-week, overnight, parallel tracked programs: Junior, Junior High, or Youth (High School). An additional 45-50 college-level through young professional counselors, advisors, and staff support these programs.

What are the goals of TAF and how do the campers benefit?

The primary mission of TAF is “to foster personal growth and develop servant leaders in the Taiwanese American community for the benefit of society.”

This translates to programming and interactive sessions that help young people explore their unique identities at various stages of their personal growth through one of four rotating themes: Identity; Ethics & Values; Communication; and Servant Leadership. Through years of experience working on these real-life core topics, we have seen this camp produce generations of confident, caring, and fulfilled individuals who are well-adjusted to the often challenging world we live in. A majority of our leaders, staff and speakers grew up with the camp, much like I did. Although culture, history, and identity are important issues to us, the primary focus of the programs is personal identity and leadership development using an interpersonal and values-driven approach. The strengthening of the Taiwanese American identity follows naturally.

Over the years, we have gained expertise in dealing with a very broad age range of youth. Even kids as young as 7 years old who attend our Juniors Program have a great time learning from our talented counselors (many of whom are student teachers or have years of experience working with children) and do very well even when away from their parents for a full week. It’s a prime example of how our staff prepares the experience so that the kids just feel like they are lovingly accepted at this home-away-from-home starting on day one. As each program develops and “grows” their campers year after year, they understand their goal is to prepare the TAF camper for the next stage of camp. As the child moves from the Juniors Program to the Junior High Program and eventually on to the Youth (high school level) Program, we see that they gain more confidence and pride in their identity as well as a deeper understanding of their unique qualities and traits. By rotating through the four major themes in cyclic fashion, even a camper who has been at TAF for many years will be able to re-explore these issues further at deeper levels. Additionally, leadership roles as “coordinators” for various camp programs are offered to the high school level participants. Many begin to put actual servant leadership qualities and skills into practice, and that has a powerful influence on their peers and younger “sibs” in a positive and impactful way. And the icing on top of all this is that camp is all glued together by fun and entertaining activities. It is, after all, a summer camp experience.

We take great pride in our proven ability to help kids grow to their fullest potential and to know their greatest strengths. Our slogan, “growing people,” also suggests a more life-long mission in building up individuals and creating a community, a home, to nurture that process. TAF doesn’t end with youth programming; it’s the start of building family foundations and better relationships all throughout life. In fact, our weekend Parents Program brings together the youth and their parents in specially-designed sessions to help them better understand and appreciate each other’s perspectives. The impact is obvious and lasting: Take a look around, and one will find that many who have grown through our programs are now college students, young professionals, and even parents who return year after year to support our mission as counselors, staff, board members, speakers, volunteers, and financial sponsors. As we continue to grow, I have noticed that our programs now serve 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation Asian Americans, including mixed-race children, adoptees, and children of previous campers. This is, I believe, a testament to our success in building a strong foundation in service of the Taiwanese American community for the benefit of the greater society we live in.


What does it mean for you to be Taiwanese American?

I think everyone’s personal journey through identity is different and unique, and recognizing that we own those differences can be empowering. Ask 10 people what it means to be Taiwanese American, and you’ll get 10 different answers. Some will answer from an ethnic or cultural heritage perspective, and others will offer a more political or historical-based response. In reality, the Taiwanese American identity is complex, and not everyone will agree on the answer. With that said, for me personally, I identify as a proud 2nd generation Taiwanese American who recognizes and accepts the diversity of experiences that have shaped our immigrant community. However, because I grew up in the Midwest during a time and place where cultural diversity was lacking, I see my Taiwanese American-ness through the lens of the broader Asian American experience. I can relate to the experiences of my fellow 2nd generation Filipino American, Korean American, and Vietnamese American friends more than I can with people who grew up in Taiwan. As Asian Americans, it is as if we walk a tight-rope between two cultures, and that is where our struggle with identity begins. Being a proud Taiwanese American means coming to terms and finding a comfortable balance with the internalized values that two (sometimes conflicting) cultures bring, and using that knowledge and experience to bridge gaps wherever they may be found. I am so fortunate that my experiences helped me to embrace my unique identity starting at a young age, and I take pride that I can help shape the next generation of young Americans of Taiwanese heritage. As we influence more servant leaders and build a strong community together, I believe that we as Taiwanese Americans have a responsibility in contributing to and enhancing a more inclusive multicultural American society.

Well said, Ho Chie!