Recapping Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Saturday, June 29, 2019

An embarrassingly delayed recap of May's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month -- though in my (pathetic, shoddy) defense, every month is Asian American Heritage Month when you're... you know, Asian American. I was sort of against doing diary-style personal/life update posts on OCL because (1) I had a Tumblr throughout middle/high school and I'm never being that open with the mundane details of my life again, (2) I don't really want to document anything that isn't a teachable moment. But APAHM is deeply important to me, and I think I've gathered just enough distance to have some insights/thoughts to share.

TACL: 2020 #CounTA Campaign
The Taiwanese American Citizen's League's 2020 Census Campaign to encourage Taiwanese Americans to check "Other Asian" and write in "Taiwanese" officially launched, and I'm so honored to be at its helm adjacent as Creative Director. Check out our Instagram to follow the campaign! APAHM Campaign
At the same time, I decided (a bit impulsively) to start an #APAHM series on the Instagram account, sharing ways to celebrate and honor Asian American and Taiwanese heritage throughout the month.
Some highlights:
- Sudden, passionate engagement about what Taiwanese identity meant to our readers; we turned these answers into a mini series about diasporic pride.
- We did a Mother's Day video featuring some sweet sentiments in some of the languages of Taiwan (Hokkien, Hakka, Mandarin, Amis, Japanese, English, etc.) CL's little brother stars in it!

Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage
After post-referendum speculation that the marriage equality bill would be completely shut down, I was feeling less than optimistic that Taiwan would make any sort of progressive statement this year, but WE. DID. THAT. On the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, Taiwan became the first nation in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

I'm so grateful to all the journalists and volunteers who provided live, English language coverage throughout this ordeal, from grassroots protests to legislative projections to local celebrations and wedding ceremonies. My heart is so full.

CAAMFest Opening Premiere & Gala
You know that Asian American heritage is of supreme and dear importance to me because I, introvert extraordinaire, went out this month. I saw two films during CAAMFest: Love Boat (more below) and Chinatown Rising.
CHINATOWN RISING, directed by Bay Area natives Harry and Josh Chuck, is a love letter to San Francisco’s vibrant Chinatown. Weaving together never-before-seen archival footage and photographs, the film chronicles key Chinatown community leaders who started an activist movement during the 1960s, and foregrounds today’s battles for social justice and equality.
You've probably already heard my prattling speech about turning my American Culture Studies minor into a years-long investigation into Chinatowns and my reverence for Chinese American history, but this documentary was so good and re-ignited my post-graduation obsession with extracurricular research. If anybody in the bay area wants to do a walking tour/archival deep dive/book club about Chinatown history -- like, actually -- let me know.

Photo by Anna Wu Photography
Taiwanese American Cultural Festival
I grew up attending and performing at this festival, so I don't have much to say that isn't dripping with nostalgia. I do think that an enormous privilege, among others, of growing up in the Bay Area is that events like this always felt obviously important and accessible to me. So many transplants who attend the festival for the first time are stunned to find the critical mass of Taiwanese Americans required for an event of this scale. This community is so vast, so concrete that I've even felt qualified to pick at and critique it, knowing its stability would never crumble under any pressure. I'm so lucky (oops, might get weepy again) to have been raised the way I did: knowing, above anything else, that I would forever find home and comfort in the diaspora.

Pictured below is the partial ensemble of the Shinergy Puppet Show. The budaixi (puppet show) tradition actually has an incredible history; during the martial law era, performances continued to be performed in Taiwanese, rather than the KMT-mandated Mandarin of literally everything else. During Japanese colonialism, when Taiwanese art and entertainment were discouraged from displaying any local identity, puppet troupes would dress their puppets in Japanese kimonos, only to remove these later in the performance after the colonial authorities had left. The puppets would be wearing traditional budaixi attire, and the dialogue would switch from Japanese back to Taiwanese.

Love Boat: Taiwan Screening
If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably already seen/skipped past my post-Love Boat social media tantrum (which I'll recap below).
For context, Love Boat is the unofficial, but widely used term, for the Overseas Compatriot Youth Formosa Study Tour to Taiwan, a government-sponsored program that recruited diasporic Chinese for a month-long immersion trip to Taiwan. Its truest purpose was to ensure overseas support for the Kuomintang (Chinese nationalist) party in cross-strait relations with China, and participants vaguely remember attending mandatory lectures that, in retrospect, were likely saturated with nationalist propaganda. More salient than all of that, though, was that this was every Chinese parent's dream: a month-long pool for their Han kid to find another Han kid to marry and procreate with -- hence the term "Love Boat."
I already have a stick-up-my-ass personality, and having attended an Overseas Affairs conference as an adult, I feel particularly sensitive to how the diaspora takes advantage of taxpayer money via these lavish programs. (I also don't like to party, and reserve scathing judgment for those who do when they're ~supposed~ to be doing exciting, sexy things like having deep conversations about duality, liminality, and post-colonial Taiwan. I know this sounds sarcastic, but it's not.) But I was so upset with this documentary (not at its artistry, at its insights) because the general state of diasporic engagement and state-sponsored cultural outreach is an abomination. Asian Americans (and other diasporic members, there was a cute Taiwanese French guy) need to do a much better job at resisting Western imperialism in our conversations about and interaction with heritage, culture, and identity. Taiwanese Americans need to stop speaking on behalf of Taiwanese people; we need to stop reducing this complex, rapidly evolving country to our own shallow perceptions of how a culture can be consumed and performed (AHEM, but also cc: myself). Aaaaand, specifically because of Taiwan's recent political history and the violent ways different groups arrived to the island, we need to stop relying solely on family histories for critique and analysis. I have a billion more thoughts on this, but I want them to be eloquent and well-examined, so I digress for now, and the only way forward is to lead by example.

Amber Collective: On Heritage
Ended the month with the incredible opportunity to speak on a panel with Melissa King and Lisa Solomon about how our Asian heritage has informed our creative work. I've literally never felt brave enough to identify as a creative, so I was stunned and so honored to have been invited. I realized mid-panel, pretty much mid-sentence, that as someone who was granted a fair bit of attention growing up for my work in the Taiwanese American community, my Goliath was never exactly tokenization, but its consequence of self-isolation, of believing that there is only space for one of your kind, and that you must compete for it. I wish that part of the conversation about creating spaces at the tables for ourselves - beyond creating our own tables entirely - was how to make room for others, too.

Photo by Robbie Gene Photography
With love always,

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