About 32% of people in Taiwan identify as both Taiwanese and Chinese, while diaspora from Taiwan in America tend to identify as solely one or the other. We talk about blending Chinese, Taiwanese, and American identity with Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu. Michelle and Albert moved back to their heritage country mid-career and have been sharing their Asian American observations and introspections about living in Taiwan in their weekly newsletter, A Broad and Ample Road.
Featuring Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu:
About Michelle: Michelle Kuo is a visiting professor in the law program at National Taiwan University. She has worked with Teach for America, the Criminal Justice Institute, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Centro Legal de la Raza, the Prison University Project at San Quentin, RAICES, and the Stanford Three Strikes Project. She has started a nonprofit, Dialogue & Transformation, which works to create dialogue among formerly incarcerated people across the world.
About Albert: Albert Wu is a global historian, focusing particularly on the transnational connections between Germany and China, the history of religion, and the history of medicine. He is currently an Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica. After studying history at Columbia University, he has taught at the American University of Paris, UC Berkeley (where he earned his PhD), and the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison.
外省人 waishengren - Family from mainland China who moved to Taiwan to escape Communism in the late 1940s
本省人 benshengren - Family who was already in Taiwan when waishengren came
Other resources mentioned:
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[0:10] Come to the Hearts in Taiwan podcast where we explore and celebrate our connections to Taiwan I am Annie and I'm Angela.
And today we're asking whether it's okay to be Chinese and Taiwanese at the same time let's Dive In.
[0:30] We have a lot of new listeners so we felt like it would be a good opportunity to sort of recap our identity Journeys for all of our new listeners and maybe even for those
who are existing lister's but have forgotten this is Angela both of my parents were born in China
and moved to Taiwan at very young ages and grew up basically in Taiwan and then moved to America for grad school in the,
[1:01] So they would be considered second generation out of China because their parents were the ones that took them out of China into Taiwan and then there.
First generation out of Taiwan into America and so I Am Second Generation and I was when I grew up
both my parents identified as Chinese so I grew up
identifying as Chinese but I always had questions because I had friends who very strong identified as Taiwanese I've always questioned if my parents are from Taiwan why don't they.
Identify as Taiwanese so through this podcast we did a lot of updating and
relearning or unlearning old ideas about what the Taiwanese identity meant and have learned kind of what how people are thinking about Taiwanese identity today.
[2:00] Now I consciously choose to incorporate the Taiwanese identity into my identity so identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese and American.
A lot of things are basically the same so without repeating whatever Angela just said but calling out the differences is so we're related because my dad is Angela's mom's younger brother so
that side is very similar in terms of my experience the difference a key difference on my side is my mom.
[2:35] Is born and raised in Taiwan but her family has been there for many generations.
They are not indigenous Taiwanese but they do originally come from China
the thing that is surprising for me is even though my mom's family has been in Taiwan for 11 Generations she still identifies as Chinese
so that is feeding into my part of this journey is understanding.
Why and how somebody of that background also identifies as Chinese
and what we found was that for a lot of families who came in that immigration wave from Taiwan in the 1960s and 70s.
ideas about Taiwanese and Chinese identity were very binary you either chose Chinese or Taiwanese and if you are one you are not the other but what we learned is that people who
I have lived in Taiwan after
the 80s maybe it's a the 90s and forward have been much more integrative about Taiwanese and Chinese identity because of the nature of the government.
Mandates about identity were up until the late 80s the government is mandating that everybody was identified as Chinese and you were very punished if you identified as Taiwanese.
Whereas from the 90s forward it was okay to be openly Taiwanese.
So it didn't have to be such a binary Choice anymore and that's something that we really had to unlearn because for everybody that,
immigrated over during that period the
their ideas about identity were frozen in that in time and so they came to America and raise kids like us who only knew their view of the world and their view of what it meant to be Taiwanese.
[4:46] So when we say that we're incorporating Taiwanese identity it doesn't mean that we're denying our Chinese heritage.
We're consciously acknowledging how close.
Our families are to Chinese culture and Heritage and also how influential.
Taiwan has been in our family's culture and identity.
We are also embracing the Chinese side of our heritage it's been a really important part of our journey to.
Look for and talk to people who have been really thoughtful about how the diaspora really thinks about Chinese and Taiwanese identity because.
There is a lot of nuance so we're really excited to talk to Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu about this exact topic.
[5:40] They put out a Weekly Newsletter that they publish in both English and Chinese and it's it's full of really deep and thoughtful articles.
They're great people to talk with about this because they have,
both American and Chinese and Taiwanese identities Albert also has the.
Lens of being a historian and Michelle has the lens of being a legal expert.
So let's meet Michelle and Albert.
[6:20] So today we have two really special guest coming to us all the way from Taiwan.
Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu and they are a couple of smart and generous people who he found because they write a hugely popular substack newsletter together called A Broad and Ample Road.
Which is published in both English and Mandarin.
So Michelle is a lawyer and a writer with a history of social activism and Albert is a historian of Europe and East Asia,
and they met in America and currently live in Taiwan so thank you for joining us you to thank you so much for having us we're so excited to be on here thank you.
First to understand who you are could you tell us a little bit about your identity Journeys and maybe how your family backgrounds have influenced that I was born and raised in Kalamazoo Michigan
and my parents are from Taiwan but I honestly knew very little about Taiwan until I met Albert I think I grew up
and the multi-cultural 1990s you know where there is this dream of basically a until Trump there is I think there's been the stream of a multiracial America and.
[7:32] And you can kind of Trace that dream and like all of the things that I chose to do so I worked for Iran like this diversity magazine in college that I worked at a homeless shelter that I
the Teach for America to majority-black area and Rural Arkansas and then I worked as a lawyer for undocumented immigrants who are largely Mexican.
Through this whole time you know I mean I think that,
that identity is an Asian was like there but it was through my identification with other people of color and then when I met Albert
I was like oh I don't wonder why I have a date East Asian guys have I internalized racism but no no I didn't South Asian guys so I'm not racist I mean I it was all under the surface you know and there really wasn't a dialogue about Asians or.
Asian America as we all know.
And then I met Albert well as well entering at San Quentin prison for this amazing program that grants associate degrees to incarcerated people.
[8:29] And when you followed love like you don't know what you're you don't know your just you know I know that you
you do do so I saw more of an Asian-American Brethren rather than an Asian and the newest through Albert I started,
learning more about Taiwan and it was only like many years later we've been together for 10 years now that I understood he was really Taiwanese mmm
Anderson too late before it was like I couldn't go back like oh oh no we gotta move the Taiwan and give up my whole life in America this sucks.
[9:04] That's really common among Second Generation and Beyond Americans is.
[9:10] A lot of us identify as just Asian-American because it's really how we experienced America was how Americans saw us as all you know having black hair
brown eyes and like all having like generally the same appearance and so our experience was more being treated as a monolith and not as specific distinct identities because nobody was really
caring including ourselves about learning the differences between countries and cultures
and I mean I can relate to that of like not not really wanting to learn about my Heritage and more just wanting to assimilate
and I totally identify with that and I think I think probably you and I both probably did think of it as a simulation we probably thought of it as
embracing an ideal and I thought of myself as countercultural as well because it was working with other communities of color
but in in kind of declining to learn about
another Heritage in another country it is assimilation astray because it's assimilation is a man is is to adopt to the country's framework even those even those ideals that are
third is that a countercultural definitely appreciate that you know we didn't even have a phrase were Asian-American in the 1980s but if you had to ask me I probably would have thought more in terms of chinese-american the taiwanese-american and then.
[10:34] They kind of grew into my own in my 30s and I started identifies how many's American because I learned more about the history of Taiwan.
[10:41] My parents used to get my parents would really really upset with me so now identify both as Taiwanese and Chinese American
as kind of because I think it's more honest in terms of being more Broad and embracing and it's more true to my family's history which is of a mixed marriage my father is waishengren and my mother has benshengren and
that's actually something that's interesting about Albert and me is that we're both from mixed marriages how about you Albert.
[11:06] So I was born in the US and I had sort of reverse migration so my parents were graduate students I was born in the South I was born in Houston,
and then my first four years.
I vaguely remember my last year and it was in Alabama,
and then we spent a year in New York and then when I was six we moved to Taiwan were my dad is a physicist that he and then I went to this Bilingual School.
In seeking to which is where there is a new science Park that was being built at the time.
or, well it was already built but then they had a Bilingual School to sort of attract.
People who have moved to the US people like Michelle's parents my parents there is this massive brain drain in Taiwan and 60s and 70s.
[12:02] And to sort of attract this sort of a talent back they set up tax breaks for for companies like TSMC but also they had this school that.
For kids of people who Moved abroad that they could have both a Chinese / Taiwanese education and then also this.
American educated so half of the school was tracked on to this sort of American curriculum and then half of the school was tracked down to the townies curriculum so ages 6 to 18 I was in Taiwan.
And then when I was 18 I moved back to the US for college and then graduate school and less two years of graduate school that I met Michelle and then.
So in terms of identity you have Michelle and I have talked about this a lot I mean and but it was really your question that really asks that I started to think a little bit more about.
[13:03] When I started to identify more as Taiwanese the school that I went to.
And I went there late 80s early 90s it really was before all of the curricular reform in Taiwan which was really started going in the,
early 2000s during the Chen Shui-bian Administration.
[13:23] And so the the history I grew up learning was primarily Chinese history and I learned very little Taiwanese history growing up and I would say like even when I was growing up.
My mother is from a refugee family that came over and 49 my grandfather was a soldier for the Kuomingtan,
and had his arm blown off during the War live my father is from a multi-layer multi-generational Taiwanese family,
growing up in Taiwan I was very much grew up learning a culturally Chinese curriculum I speak very little Taiwanese.
But even though I grew up here I lived in this science part bubble that was pretty much not
integrated into local Taiwanese society and then my extended family all of my aunts and uncles on my dad's side are here and they all speak Taiwanese but.
You know I would I didn't live with them so so I'm not fluent in Taiwanese
when I went to the states for the first time when I was 18 there was actually quite a bit of a disconnect from the Taiwanese American circles because I met some Taiwanese American families who that had.
[14:35] Or people who are in taiwanese-american associational of groups who had been blacklisted and they basically have been abroad.
Since the 50s or.
And they only taught Taiwanese to their kids and we when they saw me they're like oh they this this must be a white silk it right like like you and he's not really quarter with Taiwanese enough.
I've always felt sort of uncomfortable in Asian-American crowd but my Taiwaneseness really came into formation and early.
[15:05] I mean my father was always sort of proudly Taiwanese but I don't think it really took until 2000 after the 2000s and I remember very clearly when since we began was elected as president,
that I started to for the first time think of myself sort of as quote unquote Taiwanese in a specific.
Sort of way as a portal opposed to sort of broadly Chinese or as a broad Huaren category
a bit more thoughtful of embracing a Taiwanese identity when
the president Chen Shui-bian was elected actually in year 2000 was the first time that a non KMT president was elected and that was Chen Shui-bian
he was at the DPP party it was really surprising because Chen Shui-bian was able to win with only 39 percent.
Of the vote because there were three candidates and so that's the only time that the candidate has won with less than fifty percent of the votes.
[16:19] So that was a big turning point and that's why we hear that the Taiwanese identity kind of felt more empowered when he came into office.
[16:29] Remember when in our Evan Dalia episode oven mentioned the this study that is done every year by the election study center at National tongji University
they do an annual pulse check on
how do people in Taiwan feel about Taiwanese Independence versus unification with the mainland these charts are so interesting because it's not just
surveying people about how the trends have changed about independence versus unification but they also asked about
how do people identify Taiwanese Chinese or both and also what are there.
Political party preferences so they've been asking all of this since 1992.
[17:17] Right when it kind of became okay to talk about these political differences and talk about these identities people who identify in Taiwan as.
Only Taiwanese is 62 percent.
[17:33] And people who identify as both Taiwanese and Chinese that's 32 percent of the population people identify as Chinese only has dropped to three percent and it's really just like down there at the bottom.
Thank you encyclopedia and Angela so that's where we're at today and we can get back into what Michelle and Albert have to say.
[18:00] Ask a little bit more about during these years age 6 to 18 in this bubble school for the
parents who had repatriated to Taiwan
did you and your classmates get treated as Americans like we're you consciously like American as distinct from locals we were definitely seen as the American kids because.
[18:24] Our school had a bilingual department but it had also the regular Department.
Department so they had a high school board's own counsel Shashi record Zone called song so
elementary school middle school and high school and then they also have to kindergarten and it's different yeah it was all it's all it's all a public school but you had.
Sort of special criteria to get into the public school like you have to live.
Pinching two or you have to your parents had to work either at the science part or at one of the Affiliated universities like to my university or Telltale University or diplomats kids a lot of them went there.
The Bilingual School is sort of a separate separate track to get into the high school you have to take a test and we didn't have to do that we could just sort of once you are in you are in and then you attract all the way through and most of,
my classmates you know came back at various times so.
I came back in the first grade but then we had other you know people who would come back in middle school or High School.
[19:32] And varying different degrees of Chinese,
and definitely we were seeing locally as the American kids and then we would often have these sort of tensions with the local kids when we were together you know when we bilingual kids were together we would always be speaking English.
We take the bus you know yeah not just on the bus and then you know we also dressed differently from the locals.
We definitely didn't consider ourselves Americans because there was detecting American School.
[20:06] Which was the rich American school yes yeah that was all private school kids and they look down on us.
You've written about Michelle's grandmother and Albert your mother in posts on your
newsletter but you mentioned these were describing your the white sugar insides of your family's history originating in China and Michelle your grandmother being related to
some people who are very high up in the original Roc government I didn't even know that there was a party of The Roc that was.
[20:46] Conflicting was Chiang Kai-shek's version of The ROC that whole experience of that side of your family and then Albert you I think in your post about your mother
you described so beautifully the history and the experience of that
generation both Taiwan and America are viewing China pretty antagonistically right now feeling threatened by China for
obvious reasons in Taiwan but in America it really is as China has gained its economic power it's become more of a.
Real consideration especially in the most recent years the rhetoric around China has become increasingly sign of phobic.
Michelle you said that you identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese
Albert you said that you shifted to identifying as Taiwanese do you still identify as Chinese I normally say I'm Taiwanese with
origins in China part of the Taiwanese identity is having to contrast with Chinese identity because it gets completed so much
but living in these countries that view China very negatively owning the Chinese identity comes with some risk
do you feel and in your experience that identifying as Chinese is discouraged yeah I mean I think it's a really confusing time honestly the Sinophobia
it's something that we have to constantly combat.
[22:15] Sometimes when I hear Taiwanese nationalist adopt this sort of conspiracy thinking against China it's just really counterproductive but at the same time just recognizing that this is.
The there the regime that we're dealing with is huge and also in many times just evil.
Pursuing evil Acts and so so I think it's really confusing and and I think also you know the sort of American foreign policy is always that.
The big sort of driver here to write so both Michelle and I were.
Protesting against the Iraq War in 2003 you know so we're critics in the American foreign policy so it's it also feels.
Very weird to to be.
And I've heard heard this more and some my deep green circles here where it's like very just sort of pro American foreign policy it's like.
[23:15] That is that seems confusing to me to write one can be critical of.
The PRC or the current regime in China without necessarily disavowing one.
The cultural or the history of China and engaging with it deeply and that's my hope which is I mean if we really want to understand the enemy.
Then we need to know its history how it thinks watch how it acts in the world why acts in the certain way and this and this history is deeply intertwined with Chinese history I mean like we can't understand the history.
Taiwan without this understanding the history of China and Japan and,
imperialism in East Asia all right so my general sense is always just to take an expansive view on this and just to say.
[24:08] There are a lot of contradictions intentions but we can we can hold all of these different identities.
Together politics always flattens right like politics always forces you to choose a side and that's that's something that we always have to.
To try to resist which is we are.
[24:25] Just political beings we are people defined by politics that our families are complicated.
That the way people move in and out of spaces the history of this land is complicated.
And when politicians want to say oh you know China has been bad and it's always been bad and we're not this and we're.
[24:47] That's that's that's always a type of simplification or.
[24:53] A way of trying to get rid of all of the complexities of of real human life that I think.
[25:03] As Scholars are activists we have to always be careful about and to always just say actually no look weird.
Is that the situation is much more complex than what the propaganda wants you to believe.
And that's that's what's I think what's the hardest thing about polarization or propaganda or all of these sorts of things is that it's forcing families to pick sides.
Hmm like either your Taiwanese were your Chinese what are you.
[25:37] And it's like no I mean like that's not that's not how we live our lives right like that's not how we think of ourselves.
Whenever were we even find ourselves down that path I at least Michelle and I we were always talking we always try to resist that.
My Hope Is that other people have.
[25:55] Open enough Minds to be able to understand that your heritage identity is separate from
the current regime or the current government of a country
right and then you can apply that to like all sorts of situations Americans same thing yeah right hey I have American and part of my identity but that doesn't mean that I am of the same mindset as the current
ruling party in the government
Russians right like right now what's going on people who are Russian I they don't necessarily agree with what the Russian government is doing I think you can copy and paste that mindset across
so many different scenarios one solution is to tell tell stories of
you know Chinese people who resist and Chinese people who would Envision a different China or Chinese people are trying to recover more complex history than what the PRC says or you know I mean there's so many stories like that they're harder to find because of censorship
repression it's true we're in such a confusing time that's polarizing families and my family included and,
whenever my parents tell me you've become so anti-china I'm like no no I'm Pro approach solidarity with Chinese people who want a different regime that arguments about is it working with them so if you guys have a better argument I'm lived here.
[27:15] And what you know and then I tell them well no you've actually become more Pro China which also has it worked but it's certainly true that I've seen a change in there.
[27:26] How they changed how they talk about their peer see that past four years and identifying as Taiwanese is a shorthand for.
[27:33] Signaling in a sincere way your commitment to the Taiwanese project of sovereignty and.
Countering and illegitimate way.
The propagandistic and aggression aggressiveness of Chinese foreign policy to identify as Chinese but I think people should always recognize it's a shorthand that the long hand way to go is.
Is to always think expansively to recognize that these things are these forms of identification or are you know short-term their condition that dependent on the political on like the political situation.
[28:12] I don't know I tried to tell my mom like when we were in California recently as like this land used to be Spanish land
like cut the nature of Conquest changes in people's identities change alongside the political situation like all these things are fluid I'd guy I can identify for instance a particular American ideals multiculturalism but calling it American
and calling something towns our colleagues something Chinese are short-term forms of political expression that could change in 10 years it is true I mean we just learned that the Taiwanese identity
didn't it like wasn't even a thing before Japanese colonialism so it wasn't until there was something to resist against that
they realize that they should identify as their own entity on the side of Taiwanese identity I think I think part of.
The project is you know when I was when I was growing up and I think this is the same for Michelle's parents.
You know China was the the great civilization and it was all about learning the 5000 years of History.
And that's why you had to memorize all of the dynasties right because you're saying you are the sons of the Dragon Sons and Daughters of the Dragon in this great.
[29:28] Long history even though you're on this small you know little island dirty little Island.
You have this long glorious history behind you and maybe one day you will be reconnected with the mother that was just at least how a certain type of
politics still plays out today this were a pro unification politics and I think the Taiwanese project is to say there's something called Taiwan yes it may not have some people say okay there's this indigenous history that that is just as long
but that there that it has.
Its own history and China is part of that Chinese influence in Chinese but that there's this Multicultural expansive,
history of Taiwan so Taiwanese as a category is not just small and provincial and dirty but something that is is connected to this broader East Asian history,
the key thing then is to never just to sort of demonize particular parts of the.
That identity right to say Okay so let's try to just just get rid of this.
[30:33] This part but took to receipt see it and all of its or to see how it's how it's interchanged and it how the Chinese Parts have been
it exchange cultural exchange or religious exchange with different parts of Taiwan to be one part of their project absolutely I think Tony's
history is private part of their project of decolonization and
you do have to resist parts of the old-school KMT which has such contempt for indigenous history for instance because they view it as some sort of opportunistic way to prove that there that you know
to prove that Taiwan has its own history but even in that contempt you did you detect this this belief in some sort of civilizational hierarchy right that
old written language with excellent brines you know is like I argue but like indigenous art is like Laura hierarchy so why would you try to recover that history or write that history and so
once you start on this project with decolonization you can
begin to decolonize like that mindset of some sort of hierarchy and I think that's and that's really powerful and that's what the Taiwanese history project is doing but you can see how it's just a stab at the heart for
some older generation that grew up memorizing the dynasties you know and they don't know what to do they're like well what should we do with what we learn are you saying that what I learned was
was not correct and as I know was just to say that how we teach history is a reflection of the.
[32:01] Of the political times you're not wrong about that but our political time values to colonization and ultimately if there are choices to be made and.
I think always about choosing to be against authoritarian or imperialist forms of thinking.
[32:18] And that type of authoritarian or sort of forms of imperialist thinking.
Can penetrate any part of the political Spectrum it's not just the PRC that has authoritarian thinking right so like
even in the Taiwanese nationalist project there's there's all the all these forms of authoritarian thinking when we when people try to exclude migrant laborers or you know people who are coming from
southeast Asia or at their civilization will hierarchies that our nighttime needs nationalists are buying into as well right with Michelle and I
find inspiring about the townies project is that it had its roots in anti-authoritarianism right that this this anti-japanese identity that came about in the 20s and 30s was because of the authoritarian control,
imperialist control that Japan had on Taiwan and that you know all these Taiwanese activists were forging their identity.
To resist Japanese authoritarian control and then the Democracy movements in the 70s and the 80s or so from the 50s onwards into the 80s were the sort of can't I can t.
[33:26] Anti-authoritarian were anti-authoritarianism was rooted in the sort of anti kmt politics I mean that's for me that that is the core of the.
The town of these project I would love to hear more about.
[33:40] How it's like how your worldview shaped the careers that you went into and then from there even more so how did your careers,
then continue to shape.
Your worldview from there as adults right because ensure it involved as you know especially your unique careers both have taken you to really interesting places my entire.
[34:02] Worldview has been.
[34:05] Heavily influenced by my father who he's a physicist and when we came to the back to Taiwan he was giving up probably the best job one of the best jobs in the world he was he was a tenured professor at Columbia.
Decided to give up that I mean my mom I mean it's not really a fight but she'll be like oh you know I you know we were ready to like move to Upstate New York to like Westchester who we were,
she had put a down payment for a house and then your father got this call to come back to Taiwan and he gave it all up and and that was actually also this sort of a thing in their variant or because she's from this Weiss and family like we mentioned but
they always have the same mentality and we need to get out of Taiwan because who knows when the wars going to start again and then my.
Paired at my father actually never really wanted to study abroad and so he he I think if he hadn't had my mother he probably would have.
[35:03] You know can like a local mechanic or something like that and you that you know I mean like you just the way he tells it he's like yeah we've been happy you know and
I'm just a country boy but then I mean I think so he came back and.
When we were six to start the sting and like he's an idealist and he says I can do something for Taiwan and I think a lot of people my friends that their parents all had that same dream they're like,
we went to the US did what we could in the US and now it's time to do something for Taiwan
and it's not you know all were been centered and put like you know a lot of people are from Western families to but they had this this this vision and so I think growing up in.
[35:51] In my father always said you know if you really want to do something for Taiwan you need to go abroad and you need to learn everything that you can.
[36:00] And so he had never told me that you need to stay in Taiwan and you know but he was sort of saying you know.
[36:09] If you if you really want to do for do something in Taiwan you you need to get a broader global vision because that's what we need here.
[36:18] And so even when I went to the US that was sort of always in the back of my mind like I'm getting this knowledge for something but I think my world view has always been about sort of situating Taiwan in the world or situate myself in the world what is.
What is my relationship to to this broader Global story and how can we situate ourselves.
How can we situate Taiwan in this world and sort of learning all of these other stories as a way to understand.
Our story side note I would highly recommend there's this book by Kwame Anthony Appiah called.
The at this ethics of identity he has this idea in there called the rooted Cosmopolitan because he sort of has a similar experience to his father who was I think.
[37:09] Canadian Patriot.
[37:11] But was always thinking internationally and that was always sort of a moving idea to me I was 30 when I met Oliver and he
you said he said to me in passing you know I love Taiwan I hope I can go back there someday of live there
I mean too much to my young mind it just seemed like the equivalent of jumping off a cliff to move to Taiwan.
About of I mean what what could say like oh you're so self-loathing or you internalized racism it's not like that at all I just had created a real path that America I had a job
friends at a bar license and a strong sense of myself in America that I don't have in Taiwan and that I
would it have when we move to Europe for his job I just was a lawyer.
[37:59] At a nonprofit that was deeply embedded in Fruitvale which is like a
a place where a lot of undocumented Latino Americans and Latinos live in Oakland
I had the best volunteer job in the world teaching at a prison with a highly motivated incarcerated students I felt like I couldn't move in the world,
and then as an Asian-American which is I mean I don't even know if a house trial identified but if I did identify as an Asian-American it was as a quote-unquote ambassador to all of the other disenfranchised people of color you know and
I really found myself in some way.
That was my defensive response to why why did you like hate the idea of moving to Taiwan and the the less defensive responses just yeah I mean I did that much about my Heritage and I think it is partly because of my parents.
[38:50] And both of our cases are mother is converted to the husband's politics so the in my case my Observer mother converted to my dad's more waishengren politics so that's partly why I didn't have that background of like,
the honor of going back to Taiwan and like developing it you know that's that's the political background that I didn't understand at the time a lot of Americans.
Don't think of moving abroad permanently or even seeing that as an opportunity they like to study abroad they like to go visit and they like to come back to America whereas a lot of other.
People in the world like it seems like they move countries so readily or they have a mindset where they're preparing to
leave their country and I think that is very hard for Americans to
Envision what happened with us is that Albert got a job in France a couple of years after this so I think something happened to me in France where people.
[39:49] People just keep asking you in France where you're from where you're from and if you say American
they keep asking but where are you from it's not like an America where if you live in certain Progressive enclaves people know not to do that and I notice how weird such different reactions to that question Albert would very proudly say I'm from Taiwan Taiwanese.
I wouldn't I would say I would sometimes insist but then I'm like this is so weird do I why would I prefer for them to know like this random person to know that I've America and that really helped me think about,
this kind of prejudice I had this like hidden Prejudice I had this like private and coming.
From America was based in some sort of Distinction desire to distinguish myself from the Asian
part and this is a shock to somebody who considers itself pretty Progressive and embracing of other cultures right who works with immigrants and so this process of racialization and then of that occurred in France really
actually helped open me up to Taiwan because one I would have preferred to be in Taiwan then France and then to
yeah I don't want to be a person who values the Asian part of our heritage comes from coming from America but it also comes from being Asian-American where you're trying to prove your americanist route your childhood you know like one thing and I
in which I think her.
[41:10] American-ness has really sort of remain rooted it's this sort of commitment to social justice that I've seen.
[41:20] And then the moment she's arrived in Taiwan she's like become best friends with people at the sort of,
and the death penalty initiative which is sort of the center of progressive activism here so I mean this activist spirit is very much tied to her exploration of American History rather than,
some form of necessarily Asian American identity I feel like I'm learning more with every minute that passes and Angela
actually found your newsletter and brought it to my attention we would just love to understand why did you start this newsletter Ellis a little bit more
well first of all thanks for reading our newsletter it means a lot to us we love with this I mean that's honestly the best part of the newsletter is connecting with readers.
Who started it during the pandemic and we wanted to write.
And connect with people that's the simplest way that was 20/20 in Paris.
[42:21] I think I think the newsletter really took off when we opened ourselves up to people about moving to Taiwan and then our Taiwanese American Chinese American readership.
[42:32] Really grew and.
basically we wrote a pair of articles about moving to Taiwan and why it was a hard decision for us for marriage you know what it what does it mean to.
Go go back and is there a back for me for a little Michigan American person me what does it mean to be.
[42:52] Devoted to one's family what does it mean to discover your heritage and then there's a staff there's a flood of responses from readers who had were pondering similar questions from.
Really connected us to people when we first started dating we.
We wrote together a lot when our respective books came out we were both so busy with our own projects that we hadn't actually written together for a while.
When the pandemic it I was like why do we I haven't written with Michelle and a long time and I love writing with Michelle.
[43:27] That's so small I can't even think of this is an answer to your question
she just she just sees my prose is like more editing to do but it's like a true but reading Michelle stuff is and it's always it's always a pleasure it is to see.
And I was thinking from Michelle's perspective she's a great letter writer.
And also that's probably how we fell in love too is writing letters and I thought you know the newsletter might actually be a good genre for her.
[43:59] Oh that's so sweet oh my God
I wasn't going for over because he always wants to write about sports and music but he never has an outlet so I thought I thought it was more for him that we were starting it but now I'm learning right now it was for me.
Us making marriages stronger.
Yeah I think I better it is really freeing I mean there's a joke that every asshole has a substack but you know in spite of that joke it's true that as a writer you were like.
You're in this mode where you're like well let me Pitch to this prestigious publication everybody reads and it's so freeing to just choose a medium that's actually egalitarian anybody can star I mean that feels good to me.
You know what I really do feel like we've created a community I love I love the letters people right and the more vulnerable you are the war between normal people are the less alone they are it's just been really it's been good
we described you as generous at the beginning of this interview it's really generosity of your time that you write these letters out to all the rest of us who
are going through the same experiences and looking for something to connect to and given people that thing to connect to.
[45:13] In the your about page on a subset substack you you wrote an intention of creating a space for Hope in Hopeless times.
This week when we're doing this interview feels particularly hopeless because we have a,
big political polarization happening in America I think both of you have perspectives Albert as historian and Michelle as a lawyer how do you look at look at all these things and and continue on with hope I think history
as many examples of things consistently getting worse and I think anybody who's clear-eyed.
[45:50] Has to recognize that it could get worse that this isn't the worst that it could and honestly I do have a lot of fears for our daughter for.
[46:01] The world that we brought her into I think what gives me hope,
is that I do believe in human dignity and that there also so many instances in history where.
People choose to make meaning through Collective action and Collective resistance many times those forms of resistance fail
there are also many instances and one of the great books that we both have loved in the past couple of years is this book on civil rights history I've got the light of Freedom I've got some pain yeah Charles the sociologist
and it's just you know people facing the most brutal segregationist regime and just choosing to go door to door and say
hey let's get out the vote acts of individual bravery.
[46:53] Stories of 22 year old college kids coming down south both black and white who are convincing a two-year-old sharecroppers.
Convincing them to go register to vote and they get turned away 13 times with the 14th time is the charm I don't know those stories really give give me hope because there are stories of people seeking connection
oftentimes across Race Across geography across religion,
and finding connections through showing up there showing up every day and I've often found that.
[47:25] I feel the most hope when I'm with people who choose to keep living in spite of all of the harshest circumstances you know I had students in Arkansas who came to class even though they were hungry
because they said school was their ticket out I've had
clients who were gardeners who refused water on the hottest days who kept coming back to the office to practice for their their court date because they will
that was their chance to speak back to talk back to their abusive employer I don't know people are so strong people people are
or fighting everyday.
That should give us strength to fight being able to have you display or vulnerability in the form of this newsletter as one channel for that,
does help allow and Empower other people to be vulnerable and allow for then a further kind of human connection to happen,
we definitely look forward to hearing and reading more from you,
I love having these types of interactions that are just so dense and rich and full of good things for us to take away this whole,
episode was kind of triggered because when I was writing a question and another episodes outline I wrote down that.
[48:51] America has been anti-Chinese our entire lives.
[48:56] It didn't crystallized for me until that moment suddenly like everything in my life experience flashed in front of me it started with hearing
go back to China shouted and feeling like I might hear that at any given moment to most recently
the anti-asian hate
conversations that we've been having because of how the rhetoric around calling covid-19 a China virus really spurred a lot more.
Attacks and on anyone that might be seen as looking like they came from China.
[49:36] When I started looking into the history of Asian American history and specifically Chinese American history I realized how long the country has been anti-chinese from.
The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 all the way through now the policies and people looking favorably upon.
Trump and celebrating you know how how anti-china,
he was all of it just makes me realize how hostile this country has been too.
The country that I draw my Heritage from it made me feel really paint to recognize all of that hostility,
that has kind of just been under the surface or in my subconscious for all this time and really realizing so I just wanted to honor that for.
Anyone who has it does identify as chinese-american how hard that can be.
I really appreciate you bringing that up because it is a really tough topic 2.
Not just talked about but even recognize and have that awareness of it and this is a this is a huge step.
Not just for you but for all of us for me for everybody listening and hope that this idea of awareness.
[50:57] Of an issue is always the first step to change.
That's what gives me hope is that we are taking steps towards change.
[51:09] Thank you everyone for joining us for Hearts in Taiwan
make sure to check out our show notes in the episode description for links to all the things we share today we would love to hear from you our DMs are always open or you can email us at hello at hearts in Taiwan.com and don't forget
we always want to look for new music if you have some music that you want featured definitely reach out.
[51:34] Until then follow your curiosity and follow your heart.