Annie and Angela decode the distinction among people whose families come from Taiwan: who identifies as Chinese and who identifies as Taiwanese, and why. Our journey begins when we combine Wikipedia research with questions we’ve never asked our moms until now.
外省人 waishengren - Family from mainland China who moved to Taiwan to escape Communism in the late 1940s
本省人 benshengren - Family who was already in Taiwan when waishengren came
Eight-year-olds Angela and Annie in Chinese school summer camp
[0:00] Welcome to the hearts and Taiwan podcast where we explore and celebrate our connections to Taiwan.
I'm Angela and I am Annie and we decided to launch on Mother's Day which is also during Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month because we really kicked off this exploration of our heritage by asking our moms about our family history.
[0:33] Growing up our parents didn't tell us much about our family history because the focus of our conversations was more about us as kids.
Like our parents would just talk to us about how well they did in school as motivation for us to do well and that
kind of context it was like all about our performance continued in adolescents and was the Baseline of our adult communication patterns with them so we've been a bit static in how we talk with our parents as adults but
last year my mom had a health scare and she started talking a lot about her past memories like from when she was growing up in Taiwan and
it kind of opened up like a lot more conversation for me of asking her about.
Like what it was like when she was growing up more as herself as.
A kid rather than her as my parent or role model.
Identity During Childhood
[1:35] So let's talk identity we're both second-generation Asian-Americans meaning our parents immigrated to America from Taiwan and we were born in America.
Originally I thought identity was pretty simple since we're not mixed race but now I think it's complicated so
as a child I identified as an ABC an American Born Chinese I knew my parents were from Taiwan and we would visit Taiwan
every few years and I did go to Chinese school on Saturday Saturday mornings to learn Mandarin,
same so we grew up about
within like five minute drive of each other so I had a lot of the same experiences you like I also identified as ABC that was like the term that we knew then that like kind of captured us
I went to the same Chinese goal as you but I think I dropped out like wait earlier like my mom gave up on me
like third grade you got to drop out at third grade hi.
[2:47] Could not drop out until ninth grade oh my God
I think your parents were like a lot more committed I mean like your parents were like involved right like what were they yeah so my mom was a teacher for a number of years and everybody loved her of course
so wonderful and all the activities and everything so yes I'm sure that was part of it but I am.
[3:14] Totally shocked that I had to go an extra six years more than you had I known I totally would have pitched it hey.
Angela dropped out in third grade okay should be able to stop sooner than that yeah the.
I think my mom gave up on me because I was so pitiful I was like in the probably the lowest class of like skill level and like I never progressed because I was so my head was so not in the game like I.
I feel like I was in the the remedial class for so long that,
like by the time I was in second or third grade like the kids were so little compared like the other students.
[4:01] I think my mom was like oh gosh like she's really hopeless it's like never mind forget it yeah
well even though we went to the same high school I think our friend groups were different and one of my friends took me to her church youth group and she went to a Taiwanese church so this is like my
first introduction to a Taiwanese community and that's when I realized there's a difference between Chinese and Taiwanese because when I went to this church like I think one of the parents or maybe this happened several times they would ask me are you Taiwanese and I
I was like I think so it's like and then they would like ask me like d speak Taiwanese and I was like.
[4:49] I speak Mandarin or my parents speak Mandarin and they were like oh then you're not Taiwanese
and so then when I would go home and ask my mom and I'd be like aren't you guys from Taiwan like aren't we Taiwanese and she was like
no I was born in China and then I moved to Taiwan when I was a baby so that became the script for how I would answer this question whenever I was asked by Taiwanese people like are you Taiwanese I would say.
My parents were born in China but they moved to Taiwan when they were babies and I learned that that was my script for how I would explain
like what I was and they were satisfied by that like they knew what that meant even if I didn't know what that meant so that was just like.
[5:32] How I explain myself to everybody from then on then when I went to college I went to MIT and
I met a lot more Taiwanese friends like we were
in this thing called Chinese Bible Fellowship like there was just one Bible Fellowship for people of like Chinese origin so it was a Chinese Bible Fellowship but like most of the people there were Taiwanese and,
now I realize that I think a lot of immigrants from Taiwan in the 70s when my parents immigrated were technical
like a lot of Engineers and so their kids ended up at MIT like Engineers kids become engineers so like.
I guess is not that surprising now or like it kind of explains to me now like why I encountered so many Taiwanese people.
In college and so those those friendships have continued on.
into adulthood and so I feel like I have a lot of Taiwanese influence in my adult life now.
[6:40] Yeah so my experience was.
Pretty different so when I went to college I went to school at UC San Diego and so I didn't.
Spend a lot of time with any Taiwanese people. All of my friends that I really have now that are.
[7:07] Taiwanese or have some connection to Taiwan we're really the ones from childhood.
So yeah it's very very different yeah that's what kind of sparked this journey for me was because after I left college you know fast forward,
Curiosity And Angela's Mom
[7:22] 20 years or so we're on social media now my Taiwanese friends are pretty vocal and active on like Instagram and stuff about issues around Taiwan so.
I started looking into,
okay like really like what's what's going on here and I went down to Wikipedia rabbit hole and started looking up like who is Chiang Kai-shek why did he come to Taiwan from China
and I learned about not not just 228 which we'll talk about later but.
This 40-year period of Martial law that on Wikipedia they call it white Terror it was from 1947 to 1987 so like spanning my parents lives.
[8:16] Even though they were in America and I was born in America like even into my childhood was how long that this extended in Taiwan,
and I just feel like was really shocked as like.
All this bad stuff was being done by the government Chiang Kai-Shek's party the Kuomintang party so I was like oh I think that's what kind of crystallized the Taiwanese identity but I.
I felt like this pull from how proud my friends were to be Taiwanese so I was like hmm I don't know if I want to identify with like.
The Chinese side so maybe I can like.
Still be considered Taiwanese so I asked my mom again are we Taiwanese No it's a very complicated to explain this we know we belong to.
Our ancestry our grandma grandpa it's my own grandma grandpa.
[9:15] We we speak Cantonese and we we are the local Cantonese people see.
Even in our own ID shengfenzhen that is like their.
ID okay have our social security or whatever the equivalent to and it has your your your.
Born place or where you you were born and that means you know you they will know what language you can speak you know but of course everybody have to speak Mandarin but then they will know where you are from originally from.
[9:54] So I was like.
Laughter what I read on Wikipedia and like how she answered I was like oh my god did my family work for the oppressor? Grandpa works for Chiang Kai-Shek.
He's in the administrative Department if he stayed behind he maybe will be killed by the Communists.
[10:14] Is this what it feels like to have oppresser heritage,
that is a government official of office or is almost like working for the Congress okay it if you work for the Congress
of course you'll belong to the government and if the communists come you know he'll kill everybody that belong to the senate or congress right,
okay so that is the way that's why he has to leave with Chiang Kai-shek and I liken it to
what it what it must be like to be white in America and be told that white people used to own slaves and like how poorly they treated black people and other minorities
and to have to carry that.
[10:57] Weight over that guilt of like even though you personally don't think that you have inflicted this pain on other people.
Your race carries that burden and it really
reset for me what my family heritage could be associated with and I have to examine like whether there was any privilege that came with being.
With the party and power versus with the.
With the people who are being oppressed and have I benefited at all from that privilege we know they are.
Beat her amount us because they sing we are taking their land and we want everybody to speak Mandarin instead of speak Taiwanese and.
[11:48] I think that in that sense they think we are we are against them.
So when I hear when I hear people whose parents were like mine is
all the say that they fled China because they were fleeing communism and that characterizes it as kind of a refugee experience.
[12:11] But the difference between most Refugee experiences and the people from mainland China who emigrated to Taiwan was that
they were coming in to Taiwan as a position of power right so there's,
Waishengren And Benshengren Identity
[12:28] actually a term for that script you're using right it's
waishengren which translates to a person from outside and then benshengren is the person who is local so in 1950 ish right when Chinese mainlanders or if the fleeing communism like our.
Shared side of the family those that group is considered waishengren coming from the outside versus theirs
these call it Taiwanese incumbents who are not the Aboriginal Taiwanese but they've been in Taiwan for multiple generations and that group is called benshengren,
Mmm Yeah so so my mom explained to me that it's like it was so much a part of their vernacular that like that's how they would actually introduce themselves so everybody knew who is who.
Did you know that do you use these terms going on that there's this benshengren and waishengren? Oh yeah we always talk about it even when we were in elementary school oh yeah the one you introduce yourself.
Okay my name is.
[13:36] Hsieh Jing Hui or whatever Wo shi benshengren means I am Taiwanese.
[13:44] So like my dad is your mom's brother and so they're both considered waishengren and if you think about
Taiwan being an island close to a Mainland similar to how in America Hawaii is a group of islands that are away from the Continental u.s. Hawaiians call people from the continental US mainlanders.
So I think it would be very similar like if you were in Hawaii you would be identifying yourself as like a local or a native Hawaiian as a contrast to mainlanders who are from the
the continental US so even though your dad was born in Taiwan he was still identified as part of a why showroom family,
[14:31] right exactly and my mom is actually considered benshengren because she has Chinese
Han Chinese origin but her family has been in Taiwan for 11 generations and that's why she's part of that group. I'm still consider as the Taiwanese because I was born,
in Taiwan many many generations in there already right? They're called Hakka. Hakka means what,
the first word its keren means guest.
Hakkanese it like they are guest people why they called us because.
[15:10] Even longer than that even more than for 500 years ago.
These people like my ancestor mainly live in the central area of China.
They ran escape to southern part of China which is for my ancestor.
[15:34] They settled down in Canton area so people used to.
live a thousand years all the time in Canton call those people it's like you know new immigrant they call them they are the people guest guest people so he called Hakka.
[15:54] So her people are not the same as the majority Fujianese.
Who speak Hokkien and that's the language that's called Taiwanese exactly and so she actually speaks Hakka which is different than Hokkien.
I had my high school in Taipei and my classmate who sit next to me I said.
What do you speak at home she said Taiwanese I never heard of Taiwanese when I grew up we always call.
The language I speak at home Hakkanese and I do have a few classmate or neighbor they speak.
[16:34] The dialectic of Fukienese we call it minnanhua it's like that area called Minnan maybe easier say Fukienese.
[16:44] So if the first time I heard Taiwanese.
[16:49] I said what kind of language is Taiwanese and then I realize what she meant Taiwanese is actually Fukienese
So now we call Taiyi, Taiwanhua, Taiwanese which is indicate the Fukienese.
[17:05] So I am actually half.
Waishengren and half benshengren. Well my family definitely or my relatives around my parents.
[17:19] Most of them they have that concept saying that the you know they don't like the people from mainland China.
[17:29] Even though like for me and Daddy, Daddy's family is not like a wealthy family and his dad he's just like a normal.
Public officer like what work for government.
[17:42] Yeah so and took them two years to accept him and also gradually accept his family but.
I can't see the change. Personally I don't.
Have that because my friend my classmate starting from middle school to especially high school and college.
[18:06] They have different kind of I mean I treat them the same just to know whoever get along I don't care.
Their parents it's from mainland China or is it you are the Taiwanese family to me it does the same.
Our Own Identities
[18:22] Hmm so you kind of have a choice like and what do you identify as now so now.
I want to embrace both sides of that and I would identify myself as Taiwanese and Chinese American it while I'm not of Aboriginal Taiwanese heritage.
Both of my parents were born and raised in Taiwan and that really is a big part of my cultural and ethnic identity because Taiwan has its own unique.
Components to it from the mainland and I do also want to identify as Chinese because our family are both sides of my family.
[19:04] Do ultimately come from China so I want to acknowledge and really honor that as well so I mean how about you so I think identity is best.
Embraced as a conscious Choice like when we were growing up I think Chinese was the default and so we just kind of accepted it but Taiwanese people of my generation ie.
I'd say like Gen X Millennials and our parents generation,
I think people who identify as Taiwanese in those Generations they have consciously chosen to identify as Taiwanese from a place of.
[19:43] Pain and or active resistance like they're actively distinguishing themselves from Chinese identity a lot because of
how they were being treated by the party in power so I have friends of both backgrounds and I
I think I said earlier that I've kind of felt this pull like this wish to embrace Taiwanese identity to show that I,
align in my ideals my personal ideals with a lot of the things that the pride
that they have in Taiwan and I want to claim I'm proud of having my family from Taiwan and so I was very tempted to.
Like say hey yeah I am me I am going to say I'm Taiwanese American but.
[20:35] I have been thinking about it a lot for the past few months and I think actually it feels more right to me too.
[20:45] Say that I'm chinese-american because it's more out of respect for the people who identify as Taiwanese what they've had to endure.
And so I think it's.
Like because my neither of side of my family had to endure this like threat to their Safety and Security.
[21:10] Like I don't feel like I have the right to call myself Taiwanese and I think that's like it's a very personal thing I'm not saying that anybody else
shouldn't be able to call themselves Taiwanese and I think especially now that the current generation in Taiwan I think they are a lot more expansive and
inclusive in terms of who can call themselves Taiwanese but I'm just speaking for like my own interpretation of the experiences of the people that I've encountered throughout my life and in my generation
I want to recognize and honor the Taiwanese experience.
In the sounds of 20th century the nineteen hundreds,
so I'm going to say I'm chinese-american out of respect and I also know that I have a lot of friends who have the similar script their their parents were waishengren and I want to
make it a call to other Chinese Americans I know that.
With thought of themselves as chinese-american as well but I'm calling to my fellow Chinese Americans whose family came from Taiwan to join me in learning all this stuff because I think.
I'm amazed that I didn't know a lot of this history until now.
[22:30] Yeah and this is really important work because you know you and I we did it,
ask our parents until now so we can't be the only people who have been in this situation others
must be in the same boat as as to MMM Yeah and I'm finding that Taiwanese parents were very vocal to their children about this is your identity maybe a little bit about like what the trauma was that happened to their families but definitely like they
we're very active in educating their kids whereas I think why shouldn't run parents
didn't they just kind of like let the default and like didn't talk much about it but it may not be their fault like they may not have known what was happening.
[23:19] Because like the whole point of Martial law was to suppress other narratives and it's like censorship and.
So these are parents generation were children growing up during the these early years of Martial law so it may have been actually hidden from them because it wasn't safe to talk about it
so they may not have known and so that's why they don't they didn't teach us about it.
Because it wasn't ended or recognized as something that needs to end until after they had already moved to the US.
So they were they were not even Taiwan when martial law ended.
[24:02] So this like this really shows to me how censorship Works especially like you know very well controlled,
country and it affects future Generations even if those Generations have moved across oceans like we spent half our lives being ignorant about all this.
Annie'S Sidebar About College
[24:23] Sidebar I just realized so I was a part of the Chinese Student Association I was an officer.
External Vice President of the Chinese Student Association at UCSD like it occurred to me until it totally threw me off I was like oh my god, so I was around.
[24:47] A bunch of Chinese and probably some Taiwanese people I didn't know but we never talked about ethnicity race identity at home
as a part of this Chinese Student Association we we planned like superficial level Chinese New Year performances and dance competitions I had nothing to do with your race.
So anyways I was just isn't that,
the dumbest crap you've ever heard of well I mean I think we were working with the tools that we had at the time like there was no discussion of.
[25:29] Like identity in late 90s late 90s early 2000s yeah I think we didn't have a vocabulary to talk about these nuances or even like we had like.
Yahoo homepage has like geocities pages of like like join my webring about
Chinese America or something it wasn't like there wasn't a lot,
to learn from in terms of reference material for what is the history of these cultural practices or superstitions and so so I think like all we had to go on was like
what our parents showed us in like New Year celebrations at home but there was like not a lot of support.
Right and I mean I guess I did.
I know people probably that we're Taiwanese or identify as Taiwanese I had no idea I still don't know.
[26:33] Because we never talked about it right so yeah I definitely like now with everyone of my Chinese
seeming friends I now it's a conversation that I have with them I ask them like you know where are your parents from and.
Like what what it what do you consider your identity which is something like we never talked about before and like.
I think we just all were second generation didn't just think that it is important to distinguish that much because we're all just trying to reconcile our own identities with like as Americans.
And that was enough commonality like we didn't need to create division among like
those of us all in this this experience so those conversations really inspired us to start this project which were calling hearts and Taiwan.
What You Can Do
[27:30] We're sharing as we learn and we'd love for you to participate by exploring your own Heritage alongside of us.
Whether you're from Taiwan or not we believe that America is better when everyone celebrates their own Heritage and comes together to exchange cultures rather than assimilate into one,
so let's try doing this together this weekend ask your parents or grandparents about their experiences and relationship with Taiwan.
[27:55] Were they White Stone ring or a bunch of ring what do they think of the other group and they talk about the differences in their families.
[28:05] If you want to share your story with others on the same Journey post with hashtag hearts and Taiwan to help the hearts of Taiwan Community find gear story.
[28:15] Speaking of hashtags let's do a segment called #notsponsored this podcast is our passion project
we both have day jobs so we've decided to make this podcast ad-free instead we want to close each Episode by sharing with you awesome stuff that we love so much that we promote it even though they don't pay us.
[28:35] Today it's our home away from podcast the Taiwan talks Club on clubhouse
Taiwan talks so we actually got on clubhouse to reach out to more Taiwanese Americans and see if like what,
learned about our own family was similar to what they had learned about.
The history of China and Taiwan Clubhouse is basically like a drop in audio app where it's like chat rooms but Audio Only
we found Taiwan talks and they eventually got a club
and so that's a club that we tune into now to reach
everyone who's in the Taiwan talks Community around the globe because there are people everywhere there's people in
Asia there's people in Europe people in the Americas it's really cool to hear all these Global perspectives you know there's just United by love for Taiwan they're not necessarily all Taiwanese it's a really great community
Annie what's been what's your experience been yeah so I got to Echo a lot of that it's.
[29:42] Meeting all these people and I mean virtually meeting them I guess and knowing that we have this common Bond.
our can you know some sort of connection everybody's connection is different to Taiwan but having that is that Baseline was surprising how much that connected us
and it's frankly the the most exposure that I have had two Taiwanese,
Language be at Taiwanese and Mandarin that's the most exposure that I've gotten to that and it's been awesome it's there's something comforting.
About Taiwan talks.
I think it's really a unique space in clubhouse because a lot of especially in the beginning a lot of Clubhouse was about networking and self-promotion but Taiwan talks was is more just a space to just be
and they've been I think they've been really intentional and the very gracious and how they're inclusive I think new people are not,
really treat it as like Outsiders they've been really really great about welcoming in new people
and I don't think it's an accident either I think it actually does tie back to the Taiwanese mindset of I find Taiwan as a country to be like.
[31:07] Very welcoming and open arms and they do have a very strong identity and a lot of Pride but they're not like,
saying no you can't come and be part of this party or like you have to qualify and meet XYZ requirements in order to for us to accept you so I think
it's like the it's very much in line with the Taiwanese culture and it's one of the aspects of this being an opportunity for you and me too
be more connected with current Taiwanese culture rather than like.
Just based on what our parents knew before they emigrated to America a long time ago a hundred percent.
Right there with you yeah if you're on clubhouse I recommend that you check out I went ox
pew pew pew pew pew pew the music you hear at the beginning and end of the episode is the song level up,
Credits And Closing
[32:02] by Vienna Teng which is produced by Cason Cooley and Vienna Teng and licensed under the Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial-sharealike 3.0 license.
[32:12] More on Vienna Teng in episode 2 so subscribe to get that episode when we publish it thanks so much for joining us on our first episode of hearts and Taiwan.
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we would love to hear from you let us know what you thought about this episode and what you learned from your own conversations with your families
and what you want us to explore and ask about in a future episode until then follow your curiosity and follow your heart.