Heart more im­por­tant than birth­place

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Some folks may pic­ture Taipei as a fish­bowl of sorts for so­called for­eign­ers. It is not un­usual for lo­cal friends to as­sume that quite a few of us from out­side the coun­try are all but au­to­matic ac­quain­tances or ac­tual friends of for­eign­ers they hap­pen to know of. Don’t we “lao wai” all know each an­other? Don’t we all move in the same cir­cles? Ha ha.

I have heard of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Robin J. Win­kler, but never met him. We’ve never spo­ken to­gether. The same is true of Viet­namese-Tai­wanese actress He­len Thanh Dao, star of the popular film “My Lit­tle Honey Moon.”

Nei­ther of th­ese two lo­cal celebri­ties was born in Tai­wan. Both, how­ever, are now ac­tive can­di­dates for the leg­isla­tive elec­tions next year. Mr. Win­kler wanted to run for elec­tion in 2009, but hadn’t at that time been a cit­i­zen of the Repub­lic of China, Tai­wan long enough to legally qual­ify as a can-


di­date. That is no bar­rier now.

He­len Thanh Dao’s can­di­dacy is not yet at­tached to a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal party. De­tails will pre­sum­ably come soon. Mr. Win­kler is a mem­ber of the Green Party.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the film star is keen on im­mi­grant-re­lated is­sues. Born in Viet­nam into a fam­ily of mixed her­itage, re­port­edly she would like to spur changes in the con­sti­tu­tion to make it more pos­si­ble for peo­ple like her to run for elec­tion and serve so­ci­ety as leg­is­la­tors. “New im­mi­grants” are rapidly be­com­ing a size­able cor­ner of our Tai­wan pop­u­la­tion, goes the idea, so why not al­low a num­ber of po­ten­tial seats in the leg­is­la­ture to re­flect the chang­ing con­tours of our lo­cal so­ci­ety? She is also in­ter­ested in a se­ri­ous study of Tai­wan life as it di­rectly af­fects ed­u­ca­tional, cul­tural, and so­cial re­al­i­ties for im­mi­grants, or those per­ceived as im­mi­grants, of all ages. Her can­di­dacy for a post as leg­is­la­tor-at-large seems par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as we con­sider the grow­ing num­ber of chil­dren now born into Tai­wanese fam­i­lies with a “for­eign par­ent,” to use that less than del­i­cate phrase.

Mr. Win­kler’s cre­den­tials as an ad­vo­cate for rea­son­able poli­cies for devel­op­ment as it af­fects en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns are well es­tab­lished. A suc­cess­ful at­tor­ney and part of the Tai­wan story for nearly 40 years, he is known for re­sis­tance to gov­ern­ment pres­sure for fast and seem­ingly shal­low eval­u­a­tions that play a key role in the plan­ning and con­struc­tion of projects for busi­ness and in­dus­try. Win­kler is no shrink­ing vi­o­let (a cliche? as charm­ing as it is use­ful, by the way). He has the back­bone of a griz­zly and, if he man­ages to get him­self elected, hopes to beat the drums and blow the bu­gle for in­tegrity and care in dis­course and ac­tion on be­half of the en­vi­ron­ment. Win­kler has legs to stand on here. He founded the Wild at Heart Legal De­fense As­so­ci­a­tion some 10 years back, and served on the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion com­mit­tee from 2005-07.

Viet­namese- Tai­wanese He­len Thanh Dao is said to “love Tai­wan.” Me­dia say she hopes to “pay back so­ci­ety” for what she’s re- ceived here. Call me Quixote if you will, but I be­lieve her. She lacks the clearly de­fined in­tel­lec­tual and ac­tivist heft of Mr. Win­kler, but may be able to cash in on that volatile thing we call eth­nic­ity. Although “half” could be a neg­a­tive for some vot­ers, I sus­pect that her Tai­wanese blood will only draw, not dis­cour­age, sup­port. Her film re­sume won’t hurt her a bit.

How do we per­ceive “for­eign­ers” in our midst? Many of us “lao wai” (a term that may smack of dis­re­spect) can tell sto­ries of not so long ago when en­coun­ters with Tai­wanese (or Chi­nese, if you pre­fer) were of­ten tinged with frus­tra­tion or, at best, bit­ter­sweet hu­mor. The as­sump­tion I of­ten felt in the past from those around me was that my stay in Tai­wan was but tem­po­rary, that I was keep­ing the bench warm un­til a more qual­i­fied lo­cal per­son could emerge (“qual­i­fied” in­deed be­ing a sen­si­tive word), and that my pri­mary as­set to peo­ple here was the lan­guage I spoke and wrote by virtue of my place of birth. I blame no one for such at­ti­tudes in the past. What­ever the mean­ing of “the other” may be to us per­son­ally or in our cul­tures, we all tend to de­fine our­selves (Tai­wanese, Chi­nese or “for­eign”) not only by what makes us sim­ply hu­man, but also by what ap­par­ently makes us dif­fer­ent, too.

Let’s face it: at times lo­cal friends and “lao wai” alike re­sem­ble a speed­ing train ap­proach­ing what may or may not be a “prob­lem” on the rails ahead. Is that a mere mi­rage I see, thinks the pi­lot be­hind the wheel, or truly a boul­der that spells dan­ger, per­haps de­struc­tion?

Not only for me, but for all of us, the can­di­da­cies of Ms. Thanh Dao and Mr. Win­kler are signs of hope. Their voices just could be voices dif­fer­ent in good ways from the voices of their lo­cal leg­isla­tive col­leagues. In choos­ing lead­ers, val­ues and hearts for Tai­wan should count for more than place of birth or orig­i­nal pass­port. Fa­ther Daniel J. Bauer SVD is a priest and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the English Depart­ment at Fu Jen Catholic Uni­ver­sity.

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