Written by Chia-Ching Tsou, Translated by Shun-Nan Chiang.
Photo Credit: 20201115-移人的聲音：移民工劇場藝術節-034 by Lennon Ying-Dah Wong/Flickr, License CC-BY-NC_ND 2.0
The Mandarin version of this article can be found here
Around 2016, following the Tasi government’s New Southbound Policy, the government suddenly focused on a particular group of Taiwanese — the so-called “the new second generation.” The new second-generation refers to a group of young Taiwanese, some of whose parents are immigrants from Southeast Asian countries following the era of cross-border marriages. The government saw “the new second-generation” as human capital with the advantage of dual culture and language. Thus, it was well-positioned to serve as the vanguard for the New Southbound Policy. However, the government’s framing of the new second-generation ignores and overlooks the new second generation’s life experience and perspective. In response to this policy framing after 2016, some new second-generation Taiwanese began to organise and express their opinions. I am one of these young people. This article aims to use my personal trajectory to exemplify the complexity of identity and shed light on the emergence of the Taiwanese “new second generation” youth’s ongoing activism.
My mother is an immigrant from the Philippines; she arrived during the trend of cross-border marriage. Since the 1980s, the globalisation wave has contributed to a trend of international migration. In Taiwan, cross-border marriage was one primary mode of international migration and contributed to Taiwan’s demographic transition. Nowadays, these new immigrants, mainly from Southeast Asia and China, and their offspring — commonly known as “the new second-generation” — constitute the fifth largest population in Taiwan.
However, growing up in a multinational family, I used to feel insecure about my multinational identity due to past unfriendly social atmosphere. Indeed, the cultural image of “the new second-generation” has undergone a significant change in the past three decades. In the past, the mainstream media in Taiwan portrayed Southeast Asia as backward countries with economic instability. This portrait, combined with various cultural differences and misunderstandings, led to stereotypes concerning cross-border marriage. The Taiwan government mainly treats these new migrants and “the second generation” as “social problems” to be dealt with. This social atmosphere also means that “the new second-generation” are typically growing up in an unfriendly and unsupportive environment.
In 2016, I participated in the TSMC Youth Dream Project and filmed a documentary in Pongso no Tao (蘭嶼，Orchid Island). I discovered that the indigenous language, Tao, is very similar to Tagalog. After consulting the island’s indigenous residents, I learned that their ancestors migrated from the Batan Islands in the northern Philippines to Pongso no Tao according to the Tao people’s oral history. Thus, the two languages’ similarity.
In Pongso no Tao, I could comfortably disclose that my mother came from the Philippines and spoke Tagalog freely. The Tao people accepted my identity. At the same time, I also perceived how Tao people made significant language preservation efforts and how they are confident about their culture. This experience inspired me to explore my Filipino identity. I began to rethink my identity from different perspectives and through films, books, lectures, and exploration of family histories. I realised that the Philippines is part of my blood and an important existence in my life.
Around the same time, documentaries, lectures, and cultural performances about “the new second-generation” sprang up, which created spaces for me to meet other “new second generation” Taiwanese. Although our parents may come from different countries, we share similar experiences growing up in Taiwan. The family elders typically forbid us to learn our mothers’ culture and language. We all experienced the self-denial and identity confusion. We all have unfriendly encounters with extended family members and need to endure negative social stereotypes constantly. More critically, we did not know where to seek support during these situations until we met with each other in these spaces. Here, we acquired a sense of comfort and can discuss and support each other when facing difficulties. In short, the identity of “the new second-generation” enables me to find these “family” members who may not be related by blood but are closely bonded due to our social positions in Taiwan.
Indeed, I saw no confirmation of the new immigrants constructed negative image. In the 2017 TSMC Youth Dream Project, I explored these new immigrant mothers’ experiences through another documentary to construct and share different social images of these new immigrants. Again, the film interview demonstrates that these new migrant mothers all faced similar challenges and shared similar emotions and attachments about “family” even though they come from different family backgrounds. For example, several mentioned how they could not return to their home country when their family members passed away. These migrant mothers demonstrated strength and courage to leave their home country to live in a foreign land. This was the message my documentary intended to deliver. I hope my documentary could invoke the same experience and empathy of the Taiwanese public and allow the public to understand these new immigrants’ aspirations.
In 2018, I met Liu Chien-Ping, a “new second generation” Taiwanese of a Vietnamese migrant mother. We decided to organise together, hoping to understand immigration-related issues through practical actions and, at the same time, exchange life experiences with each other. In these two years, we organised workshops, exhibitions, lectures, and informal gatherings. We jointly discussed action plans to address issues regarding migrant residents and workers. We strived to engage with the Taiwanese public and challenge stereotypes by sharing our perspectives and opinions about “the new second generation.” In 2020, when the government’s new policies may affect the rights of migrant residents, we organised the New Second Generation Youth Front Line to discuss and analyse the issue actively. Within the week, we decided to take the issue to the streets, with the agenda to secure enough migrant representatives in the government council. I was very scared when standing in front of the Ministry of the Interior while holding a microphone to speak out our demands. However, the brave collective support from other new second-generation inspired me to realise: “If we don’t take the initiative to defend our own right, who will help us? Only when we stand up bravely for ourselves will we hold the potential of change.”
In 2020, I launched another project to approach the issue from another angle. Together with my family members, we set up the HALO-HALO Nanyang x Restaurant x Grocery in the Matsu New Village Cultural and Creative Park in Zhongli City. Matsu New Village used to be a military dependents’ village, where early immigrants from China lived. We hope the space with rich cultural and historical meanings would invoke different thoughts about migrant issues. Another purpose of establishing this store was to support my Filipino mother in expressing her own culture confidently in Taiwan through cooking. Thus, we provide different speciality dishes every day and insist on introducing their cultural meaning to dining. Besides being a restaurant, we also regularly hold events and exhibitions related to Southeast Asia. Through interaction and discussion, we thus bring the public closer to Southeast Asia. More importantly, this space allows the new second-generation Taiwanese to develop the autonomy to demonstrate who we are and what we think through actual actions.
Looking forward, I plan to launch the “New Second Generation Consolidation Project” based on this space. In the past few years, I have been active in introducing Southeast Asia to the public. It may be time for us to cultivate our organisational strength. I hope this project will offer the new second-generation youth an opportunity to come together, enhance our sensitivity to immigration issues, discuss action plans, and develop our vision for migrant residents’ and workers’ rights. In the long term, I think “the new second-generation” is just a label. When I remove the label, the documentaries I made, the initiatives I carried out, and my academic qualifications will not be erased. I hope, eventually, the identity of the “new second generation” is free to choose. We can choose whether you are Taiwanese, Filipino, or dual identity because identity and culture have never been a single option.
The Mandarin version of this article will be published later today
Chia-Ching Tsou is a A “New Second Generation” of Taiwan and the Philippine descent; an activist on immgration issues; and lover of multiple cultures who aims to make Taiwan a better place through concrete actions. For her latest initiative and any updates on the New Second Generation activism, please check the Facebook Page of “HALO-HALO 南洋x餐館x雜貨”
This article was published as part of a special issue on Taiwan-Philippines relations, which was coordinated with help from Shun-Nan Chiang, a PhD candidate in sociology at UCSC.
I wonder, why could “the documentaries [you] made, the initiatives [you] carried out, and [your] academic qualifications be erased” when you remove the label ‘the new second-generation’? Do creations and achievements depend on a label to exist? Are such works worth our attention only when they have a label attached? Ridiculous!
Similar with identity: Do you cease to exist when you don’t share the predominant cultural practices in your social environment? Does my identity change to Taiwanese when I decide to eat Taiwanese food only and when I enact superstitious practices common in Taiwan? An identity is just a label attached to a group of people who share a few properties, be they biological, cultural or social. It does not define the individual. You have biological markers. You enact a mixed assortment of cultural practices. You adapt more or less to a social environment. What you don’t have, choose or need is an identity. ‘Identity’ is a concept constructed by social scientists that harms because it divides.