Last year I wrote an article for TaiwaneseAmerican.org about Taiwanese identity, an article that I’m really proud of. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can go read it here:
Beyond Boundaries: What makes us Taiwanese?
Recently, a website that will remain unnamed reposted that article in full on their new content aggregator, something I discovered via trackbacks to my blog.
The annoyance this has caused me isn’t really the point of this post.
The point is something I noticed in the tags they’d given my article upon reposting:
Some of these words apply to me.
But “mixed,” in the strictest sense, doesn’t. In all contexts I’ve heard it used growing up in Taiwan, and in Taiwanese communities here in the US, it means mixed race. I’m not.
In stating my love of Taiwan and my care about its future, I’m often met with direct skepticism about why someone like me, whose ancestral bloodlines (血統) all trace back to Western Europe, would have this interest.
People narrow their eyes at me, scanning my features, and sometimes tell me that I must be mixed. I’m not tall. I have a small nose. My hair isn’t blonde. Anything, really. Any genetic excuse to make my cultural identity make sense, as if DNA markers carried in them some kind of homing signal.
The site that reposted my article read it, picked up on the fact that I don’t automatically look like I belong (a problematic concept in itself anyway) in Taiwan, squinted at my writing, and added the “mixed” tag to their appropriation. Because I must be mixed, it’s the only thing that makes sense.
But if my existence doesn’t make sense in the categories you sort the world into, perhaps you need to revise the categories, because I can’t explain myself away.
In all honestly, I’ve wished many times that the mixed identity I feel on the inside was more obvious on my outside, just to quiet the skepticism and questions. It might be easier for me if people didn’t have to experience the cognitive dissonance that my blood and my heart don’t map onto each other in the way they expect.
But I don’t want anyone to think I’m pretending to be mixed so that I can represent their experiences. Though they may overlap with my own identity issues about Taiwan, the experiences of mixed race Taiwanese are also incredibly different. So different that I can’t tell you about them because they aren’t mine.
So, “what makes us Taiwanese?” I ask.
And continue to ask.
Not genetics or bloodlines. Not the social constructions of race that continue play out in exclusionary and devastating ways worldwide.
Do you love and care about Taiwan? What does your heart say?
Good enough for me.
How about you?