I Am Taiwanese American
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
My name is Sharon Ho Chang 張曉倫 and I am Taiwanese American.
You wouldn’t believe how many decades it’s taken to proudly say all those things in one sentence. The reasons it’s been so difficult are many and hard, like the compressed layers of sedimentary rock. I grew up a second generation, bi-racial/cultural, and transnational little girl in the 70s and 80s when most Americans didn’t know what Taiwan was; Taiwanese people gaped at me like I was a zoo animal; and no one anywhere was really talking about Asian mixed-race people. As a tween and teen in the 80s and 90s, white peers made fun of my middle name; Chinese people told me “Taiwanese is Chinese”; and when I went to college, my Taiwanese friends were parachute kids. Being Taiwanese American was confusing, emotional, and increasingly impossible to understand.
So, I gave up. For a long time. I hid my middle name because it felt humiliating. I stopped saying I was Taiwanese because it was exhausting to have to constantly explain or defend it. I retreated from my Taiwanese culture and hid behind the relative safety of being vaguely Asian American. My paternal family’s language, food, customs…everything began to slip away. And it was awful.
I’ve written two books on multiraciality and Asian American and Pacific Islander identity from a U.S. lens. The books have helped me, and countless others, untangle the messiness of being Asian mixed people in America. However, over the years, I've realized I will never know my whole self until I embrace being the child of an immigrant and, more specifically, a daughter of the Taiwanese diaspora. I have always had a hole in my heart where Taiwan was missing. That empty ache has stayed with me. I feel deep, unfulfilled love for my paternal homeland, a place I’ve come to see is written in my flesh and blood. A U.S. lens alone will never be enough to tell my story.
Decolonizing is the practice of healing from the terrible hurt colonialism has caused, and continues to cause, all over the world. Colonization has been happening since ancient times, but in modern history is most closely associated with the European Age of Discovery and Scramble for Africa. It is when one nation takes over another, displacing and killing Indigenous people, claiming the land and occupying it with settlers, then exploiting it politically and economically. Any resistance or dissent is squelched. Conquerors usually force their language, culture, and values upon those they have subjugated. It is violent domination that leaves an indelible legacy of pain. Without healing and reclamation, colonialism can continue traumatizing for generations.
America is an intensely colonized place and I’ve spent the last decade of my adult life unearthing the white colonizer lies I was taught to restore a people’s history which centers Indigenous and African Americans (upon whose cruel oppression American empire was built). As a settler born and raised on stolen U.S. land, this is reeducation work I’m committed to doing for the rest of my life. But I am also Taiwanese, Taiwan is an intensely colonized place too–and I have spent almost no time at all learning Taiwan's 400-year colonial story which continues to reverberate today. As brilliant African American civil rights activist and author Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t know where you’re coming from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
At this middle stage of my life, I am certain the emptiness I’ve long felt as an Asian American is from not yet fully uncovering all of the complex strata, the tiers of sand and silt, that form who I am. I've worked to decolonize part of myself, but not all of myself. Time to change that, fill the desolation with energy. I am on a journey to decolonize my biracial Taiwanese story and this new blog, Taiwanese Daughter, is my companion. Whether or not you identify as Taiwanese, I invite you to join me! There is a lot to know, past to present, about 台灣, the island that has been a home to my ancestors for seven generations.
Header image: My earliest memory. Riding a battery operated train in my cousin's Taipei apartment. I was two or three.
© 2020 Sharon Ho Chang 張曉倫