Written by Kayleigh Madjar - Assistant Programs Director (Northwestern University)
In case you couldn’t tell by my name or my picture on the ITASA National Board bios, I’m not Taiwanese. I’m pretty sure you can’t even call me Asian (although some people do). So why am I here? Why do I care about Taiwan?
Like most people from my adamantly white suburban neighborhood in northeast Ohio, I didn’t know Taiwan existed before middle school. Well, maybe that’s not quite fair. I’m sure I knew it was out there somewhere, but it didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t “England” which we learn all about in school, or “Japan” with all the Pokemon. It took a drama remake of a Japanese manga to introduce me to Taiwan. (The drama was Hana Kimi, for any of you wondering.)
From there, my interest blossomed into a ravenous attempt to find whatever pop culture tidbits the Internet would give me, and eventually culminated with a trip to Taipei my senior year of high school to see Fahrenheit in concert. Yet as cheesy as that all sounds, its impact hasn’t been trivial.
While we ideally want foreigners to love Taiwan’s democracy and economic offerings and average person, the sad truth is that it just isn’t all that interesting. At least, to twelve-year-old me it wasn’t. What was interesting, however, was Show and Fahrenheit and this new sound and style which was familiar, yet not. Songwriters and filmmakers obviously borrow heavily from popular Western styles, but it wasn’t that which kept me hooked. It was the twist which could only come from a culture entirely separate from my own, yet still familiar enough to not scare little-me away.
As I got older, I began to recognize the source of this interest as being rooted in culture, and realized that one may even major in such a thing once they get to college. And now, as I explore more of Taiwanese culture and spend more time there, I find myself drifting toward areas of politics and economics and the average person, yet with a vastly more personal tie than if I saw “Taiwan” in the New York Times and found it interesting. Before I ever stepped foot on that green island, I could feel the inkling that I was to dedicate a good portion of my life to it and its people.
We all know that Taiwan is important to the United States and the world for many different reasons. We all know we should care about the official things which happen there. Yet the more superficial things shouldn’t be scoffed at, either. Popular culture is a country’s way of reaching out to the rest of the world, and giving a public face to what it’s like within its borders. As humans, we all respond more to how a bubbly song makes us feel than what a trade deal between China and Taiwan might mean.
And I’m not the only example. I have met countless other people – online, at my college, and in Taiwan – who care deeply about the country because of what they hear in their headphones. I’ll admit, for some it never goes beyond the stage, but many are now teaching in Taiwan, or doing advocacy work, or doing similar things to what I’m doing now.
Now at home in Ohio for winter break, I am once more faced with confusion between Taiwan and Thailand, and ignorant slurs about the Mandarin language, yet I know it doesn’t always have to be this way. As long as Taiwanese artists keep pushing out into the world, and those outside of Taiwan – Asian and others alike – hear what they have to say, I know the word will spread. If we truly want to reach people, we’ll reach into more than just their minds. I know for a fact we have the ability to do so.blog comments powered by Disqus