Identity has always been an intriguing question to me. I remember it was an English assignment in high school that we had to reflect on the values that represent an identity. My buddy Jeff and I used to discuss whether Michael Chang and Michelle Kwan were Taiwanese/Cantonese or not. These questions persisted when people heard my broken Mandarin and asked if I was an ABC (no way). A few years ago my family were discussing whether our born-and-raised in Japan cousins should convert to Japanese citizenship. Then came Jeremy Lin.
Just like every other issues, the real answer is dynamic and always debatable. Jean-Yves the French philosopher of Marseille and Tamsui once said to me, that he believes as long as one 1) speaks the language, 2) wears acceptable clothing, and 3) identifies with the people/country, then he/she is who he wants to be. “So I am Taiwanese now,” he looked straight into my eyes. I was impressed, touched and inspired.
Jean-Yves brought up these statements because France had been on the receiving end of the Arab immigrant influx, and he sincerely wished the immigrants could embrace the values of being French more in those aspects. I concur to that. My argument in favouring my born-n-raised in Japan cousins to “Nipponize” their passports, is not because I agree in bowing 100x a day. It’s because it would be extremely foolish and near betrayal in my eyes for them NOT to identify with the place, culture, and people that foster and nurture them to become who and what they are today.
Most importantly, my cousins should be the ones deciding who they want to be, and who they want to identify with.
While the population of Taiwanese people should look predominately Han-Chinese, Dr. Marie Lin has shown ample genetic evidence that near 90% of the Taiwanese are heirs of Austronesian. The fact is that Taiwan has been gradually and steadily developing its multi-cultural and ethnic influences: its native aborigines, the colonial and modern Japanese, the oversea American students and scholars, the Han-Chinese, and the blooming international mothers. It’s not to the extend of American the melting pot yet, but 20 years down the line, it would not be uncommon to find a Taiwanese bearing 3 or more ethnical backgrounds. Would anyone be talking about being a pure-bred Taiwanese? Does genetic constitute really matter?
If an English teacher from the US finds his/her love of a life time in Taiwan, wouldn’t he or she someday become the parent of Taiwanese children? If so, and if one wishes to, shouldn’t he/she be a proud Taiwanese parent as well?
Take another step back, if a backpacker lands in Taiwan, falls in love with it (I’ve seen and met many), decides to fully embraces all aspects of its value, calls this place home, and is willing to devote and stand up for it, wouldn’t you agree that he/she is just as much of an Taiwanese, if not more, than any born-and-raised local you know?
Because we cannot choose our ancestors, or where we are born, it’s exactly why we can and should decide who we want to be and identify with. It’s not about what runs in your blood; it’s about what’s in your heart.
This is explicitly why I was perplexed when president Ma spoke of “The people of both sides of the Taiwan Strait are all Chinese by ethnicity. Cross-strait relations are not international relations.” on his National Day address. What a shame that a democratically elected president spoke openly of his racial-state ideology on the National Day. What a shame that he is representing this friendly, multi-cultural AND ethnical country and its people.