“Choose a leader who will invest in building bridges, not walls,” said writer Suzy Kassem
While this quote is only popularized now thanks to a certain Mister Drumpf, I was lucky enough to remove the disgusting political image associated with that man from this beautiful wisdom and allow the saying to touch my heart. It became a catalyst for a reaction that had been long-awaiting in my mind.
In the past six years of my (almost) 17-years-long life, various factors propelled me in a direction that I now came to recognize. Some factors, like the childish sneering of my peers, were short jabs to my back; while others, like the measured questions of curious scholars, were magnets gravitating me forward. Forward, to the path that I am now determined to take.
I want to tell the story of the island, Taiwan. My island, our island, Taiwan.
Six years in the United States have taught me so much more than the decade that I spent in Taiwan. Now, this may very well only be due to the fact that most people learn a lot more during their middle school to high school years than elementary school years, or the fact that immigration itself is a harsh mentor that also part times as a catalyst for growth. But, the cultural difference also plays a large role in shaping my opinions of my home country (if I am allowed to call it a country without being bashed by the same childish sneering of in my classes and my nightmares). In short, I gained an incredible appetite for pride. The pride in discussion here is not the one that Mister Darcy and Miss Eliza Bennet overcome, but pride for my country. Nationalism or patriotism, if you would call it. These two words seemed to raise red flags now due to the historical documentation of the horrible consequences that an excessive dosage of the two often inspire. And, history being one of my favorite subjects, I cannot agree more with the idiocy of justifying horrors using nationalism. So obviously, the nationalism in discussion here is a controlled dosage. All I wanted is the right to say, “I came from the country call Taiwan.”
There was another catalyst for this sudden determination. During history class with my favorite teacher, we strayed from our discussion about the detriments of imperialism and into a talk about impoverished places in the world that my classmates had been to. I found a growing annoyance and no joy for hearing the contempt tone as students give accounts of “humidly disgusting” streets of Vietnam and the “trash piles and fights” in Haiti, so I began to allow myself to zone out and think about calculus. Then a kid raised his hand.
“What about Taiwan? Isn’t Taiwan really impoverished, too? There was that one building that just tipped over after a gentle shake…it must be because of that woman they elected…”
“IT WAS A 6.4 MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE, MISTER.”
I wasn’t aware that my cheeks burnt, that my eyes widened, and that I was capable of shouting above the general murmur of the class. I wasn’t even aware that it was my scratchy voice that shouted in the first place. For the past six years I had told myself that according to history, it was only normal that most people would still see Taiwan as merely a colony of a greater landmass. I told myself that I would be okay and acceptive of the voices that found it an obligation to remind their supposed subjects that they were their subjects. Yet I can’t. That moment told me that I can’t continue to convince myself that it is okay. When the Chinese kid brought up the lunar new year earthquake with a laughing frown, my facade collapsed under my frustration.
It is not okay for ignorance to be a justification for the belittling of a tragedy. It is not okay for arrogance that is bred by ignorance to be a reason for treating the deaths of so many innocent youths in mockery. It is not okay for this contempt bred by arrogance to be an excuse for seeing the mistake of one corrupt individual in building a lacking structure as a representation of an entire nation. Tell me, does a nation need to be completely free of political and economical corruption in order to be independent? Or is independence a catalyst for improvement? For Taiwan, I know that a sense of independence might just direct the nation in a clearer direction, to give it fuel for even greater heights than its current surface modesty could bring.
I will never be just a Taiwanese. I will never be just an American. I will only be a Taiwanese American. This is in no way a rejection of American culture, but rather an (idealized) demonstration of it. It would be a crime for me to deny my roots, my birthplace. The sense of obligation and loyalty to a nation is supposed to be a cornerstone of the American value, and as cynical as society — including myself— seems to be of it (once again, thanks to the historical and political agenda that this seemingly naive dream justified), I thought that it would not hurt if I am to at least see myself for who I am. Yet again and again I need to be told that Taiwan is a part of China, and that I am denying my roots and obligation to China. Allow me to speak to you through the voice of Thomas Paine on the rights of man, “The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies…Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated” (Paine). What is history? I understand it as a record for past happening that we should all learn from. Dicitonary.com tells me that it is “the branch of knowledge dealing with past events.” So far, I have yet to see any definition stating that it should be a contract binding two culturally different peoples into one nation. So can I not be interrupted when I try to explain where I came from? When will there be an end of the assumptions of Taiwan’s poverty merely to spite its claims of independence? When will people see that it is a country working towards progress, a nation so readily embracing change, that it passes more radical laws than the United States, and elected a female president before the United States?
After the quote and my encounter with the rude classmate, my goal became clearer. I want people to see Taiwan for who it is the same way that I want people to see me for who I am. Yes, I am a novice leader. I have yet to have a taste of the real world beyond the petty dramas of school clubs, ASBs, and my philosophizing. But that is no excuse for procrastination. Even though I have yet to gain access to concrete trustees that would help me build bridges, I cannot allow myself to owe more to both my home here in the United States and my hometown in Taiwan. I cannot procrastinate my passions any longer. So I will now try my best to make myself the iron beams in which the bridge could be based on. Maybe, just maybe, if I try hard enough, and if God permits it, I will one day fill the gaps with concrete friends who share the same passions of telling the story of my hometown to the rest of the world.
I will no longer allow myself to be trapped in walls, since I want a leader who would be chosen, and a chosen leader would invest in bridges.
So, long story short, I pledge myself to begin a project where, armed with my iPhone and paper (or rather, this blog) and love for writing, I would set myself to document as much of Taiwan as possible and post them here during the summer. Hopefully, by the end of August, I will have enough stories to make a statement cohesive enough to show the characters of my home country.