Beyond Boundaries: What makes us Taiwanese?

Excited to share with you that my piece on has posted!

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What makes you Taiwanese? Is there an answer that’s more right than others? What terms make up that definition?

I’m tempted to begin this article by listing what I feel qualifies me to claim Taiwanese identity, as if somewhere out there, there’s a scale and the more Taiwanese I can be, the more my writing here matters. Nonsense.

When we create definitions of identity based on looks, language, or legalese, we use a whole host of criteria to tell people if they are enough or not. We default to such theories, myself included, because they’re simple, but the practices of lived identity bloom beyond the barriers we place around them.

To read the rest, go to: Beyond Boundaries: What makes us Taiwanese?

17 thoughts on “Beyond Boundaries: What makes us Taiwanese?

  1. Dear Katherine: You are a friend whom I really want to know. We also included this excellent writing of yours on a new mindset about being Taiwanese on our new advocacy we created for immigration reform in Taiwan. Let’s work together to redefine Taiwan’s future with more openness and inclusiveness. Ping Chu

    • Hi Ping Chu!
      It’s great to meet you through here. I looked at your facebook group and must say that I fully support the advocacy you’re doing for more open immigration reform in Taiwan. It may be too late for me (would have loved some more options back when I was graduating from college) but if it’s great to imagine that the barriers to my going home might not hamper the futures of other people like me someday.


      • Dear Katherine:
        Thank you for your support for Forward Taiwan. We will officially launch our website, in June. Hopefully, one day the destiny will come to you and all the dots will be finally connected. Keep up the sharing of your thoughts in this beautifully written blog.

  2. I really liked your blog post. I have been living in Taiwan too and I very clearly identify with your thoughts and emotions. I have the chance to keep living my expatriate life in another Asian country. But being back in Taiwan could be quite of a dream.

  3. Hi Katherine,
    I saw this blogpost on and decide to follow your blog. Thanks for sharing your own experience and raising the issue of identify and diversity to Taiwanese. I wanted to connect because I am an alum of Uchicago. What are you studying there?

    And this is my favorite quote. “When we create definitions of identity based on looks, language, or legalese, we use a whole host of criteria to tell people if they are enough or not. We default to such theories, myself included, because they’re simple, but the practices of lived identity bloom beyond the barriers we place around them.”

    • It’s great to hear from you! Thanks for your kind comments on my post at .

      I’m studying Chinese Literature in the EALC department at UChicago. Broadly, I’m interested in popular literature and religion from the Ming and Qing, and specifically, for the sake of my dissertation, I study narrative 寶卷 that were popular in the late 19th century. What did you study when you were here?

  4. I read your post on without realizing you were caucasian, and I identified with it at that moment since I thought you were describing an americanized taiwanese (like me) going back to Taiwan and being seen as American rather than Taiwanese. Once I realized your ethnicity my next thought was that you actually have a unique insight into the struggle of immigrants to the US with respect to being accepted by their adopted country as American. How we feel here in America is probably similar to how you feel about being Taiwanese in Taiwan. Although I am staunchly and proudly Taiwanese, my three years of living there before moving here 32 years ago makes me, in truth, far less “Taiwanese” than you. I attended a Taiwanese Presbyterian church here in the US for a while in high school (I think there were many branches), so it seems that whatever mission work your parents did was imported here with the wave of emigration from Taiwan in the 70’s and on.

    • The photos of me scattered through the piece didn’t tip you off? I’m pretty light haired for an East Asian. I kid. :) I’m really happy the story spoke to you. No matter what we look like and where we’ve lived, I think we’re still Taiwanese and that I’m no more or less of that than you are.

      I think you’re right about the similarity of experience between my being in Taiwan and your being Taiwanese-American in America. My husband’s parents are Chinese-American immigrants, and he was born and raised here in the Midwest. He’s sick of answering, in Chicago-accented English, questions about where he’s “from” when he’s just as much from here as the children of European immigrants who came to Chicago over the past 100 years. Sometimes, I get equally as sick of justifying my existence to people in Taiwan.

      I’m not clear about when the PCT started churches in Taiwanese areas in the US. I think it might have been a little earlier than the 70s, but my father would know more about that than I do.

  5. Greeting from the fellow (former) graduate student of University of Chicago. (PhD 2002) I know Hyde Park is not the ideal living place for a southern Taiwanese dude (我是台南人) — Hyde Park is confined (I don’t usually walk to the other side of Cottage Grove, 62nd, and 47th.) and kinda dry as an inner city neighborhood. It is truly a sharp contrast to southern Taiwan. Culturally it is as far as you can go from Taiwan.
    But unlike you, I rarely miss Taiwan. Taiwan did not make me who I am intellectually. Chicago did. I did not follow the student demonstration. Taiwan is just another place I am incredibly familiar with for some reason. I am actually planning to do a around-the-island ride(環島)after a year, but I will be equally happy to do similar rides in Taiwan or California.
    Some might say “You can take a kid out of Taiwan but you cannot take Taiwan out of a kid.” Well, it is probably not as hard as it seems. :)

    • Congrats on finishing a UChicago PhD! I’m still working on that. Hyde Park is definitely confined and not exciting, unless you like muggings. Makes me miss Taiwan more however.

      • Hyde Park 現在已經好很多了。1999 年時在 nuclear energy(現在那個新 library 邊)我有一朋友被人打了一頓。還有人被 carjacking,我的車被 break in 三次。吃飯只能到 53rd 挑不噁心的吃,Reynolds club 實在太難吃。結果是:我只花了四年兩個月就畢業了,還學了很多事。Hyde Park 實在不宜久留。

      • 你畢業的真快!

        聽說真的好多了,但是前晚聽到很多槍聲, 有人送到醫院。 上個禮拜下午2點多有人在Woodlawn&54th 被搶劫。白天呢!

        新圖書館對面物理那一棟不是因為有asbestos現在就被拆? -_-

  6. 我老婆三年十個月就畢業了。我只好快趕上。
    一般來說夏天會比較 ”壞年冬搞孝郎”。54th 和烏龍啊,以前我老婆住的地方。那地方要白天下手大概只能在後巷。槍聲?你是住那個 block 啊。我很少聽到。
    是的,我以前就在新圖書館對面那一棟 Research Institutes。 我只知道 RI 被拆了,但是我一直不曉得裡面到底有沒有石棉。

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