A recent comment posted in response to an entry titled “PRC police to Taiwan” on Michael Turton’s excellent blog, The View from Taiwan, perfectly encapsulates that viewpoint and is well worth, abusive language notwithstanding, quoting in full:
Great!! … The sooner [foreigners leave Taiwan] the better!! … As a matter of fact, all of the foreigners supporting TI [Taiwan independence] with no intention of sheding [sic] your blood, or scraificing [sic] your family or your property should leave Taiwan tomorrow … We Taiwanese will be happy NOT to see your face again EVER!! BYE~~ BYE.
Leaving aside the possibility that this response was posted by a hardcore pro-unification individual, and bearing in mind that such opinions are by no means shared by all Taiwanese, the key factor here is the perception that somehow expatriates in Taiwan are all transitory, perpetual exiles that have no real sense of belonging here. Having been confronted to such accusations myself — made by Taiwanese, Chinese and expatriates — I have long pondered their meaning and whether there might not be some truth in them. After all, the future of Taiwan is for Taiwanese themselves to decide, right?
The problem with this argument, however, is that it altogether fails to take into account the impact of globalization and multiculturalism. Brought down to a local level, it is akin to reprimanding someone who seeks to improve the community he inhabits based on the fact that he was born in the village next door. This has often made me think about my past, when, in 1994, I left home in Quebec City and moved to Montreal, 250km westwards, to go to university. Would someone have been justified in criticizing me for seeking to make my environment a just, clean, tolerant one simply because I was not born there? Of course not. Over time, Montreal became my new home, and the part of the city I lived in — in the “gay village,” which happened to be relatively inexpensive and close to my workplace — became a community that I identified with and cared for. I also wanted the various ethnic groups that constitute that vibrant city — my Lebanese and Colombian friends, and the Italians, Haitians, Pakistanis, Algerians, Jews, Muslims — to be treated with respect and justice. As such, as I developed roots there and became part of that community — in other words, as Montreal turned into my new home — I wanted it to evolve and improve itself because I cared for it. In fact, there was a selfish need in that desire to see the city prosper: I was proud of it, proud of being one of its inhabitants, and the better it got, the more international attention it gained through its achievements, the prouder I became. After all, there is nothing wrong with seeking a nice living environment for oneself.
Eleven years later, I left Canada and moved to Taiwan, which for various reasons came to feel more like home than anywhere in Canada. Having discussed this with many expatriates in Taiwan, I know for a fact that this is a sentiment that is shared by many. Several expatriates — British, Americans, Canadians, Australians, among others — have been in Taiwan far longer than I have. Many have wives or husbands here, and quite a few have children who are Taiwanese citizens. Close friendships have also developed over the years, oftentimes with Taiwanese. Many of those foreigners are therefore not simply “passing through” Taiwan like in the old days, seeking to make a quick buck before moving on to something else. Many have started families, worked on their careers here and, as a result, have become part of the community, which in the past 10 to 15 years has become increasingly multiethnic.
As such, why is it that we never (or at least far less often) hear critics say that Lebanese in Montreal, or South Koreans in Los Angeles, or Indians in London — or Taiwanese in Vancouver — should mind their own business when they seek to improve their communities and fight for justice in their adopted countries, but it is perfectly acceptable for Taiwanese or Chinese to berate foreigners in Taiwan who seek, as members of the community, to make it a better place? Why can a Haitian in Montreal work to make the city more inclusive, or, once he becomes a resident of Canada, vote on whether Quebec should separate from Canada — in other words, become a full participant in the decisions that have a real impact on the fate of the community — while a Canadian like yours truly in Taipei should shut up and not, as an equally involved member of this community, endeavor to make Taiwan a better place for all and ensure that the decisions that pertain to its future are not made through coercion, fear, military threat, or lies? Is it not conceivable, for a person like me who has a Taiwanese partner, who works as a reporter in a (still) free press, to seek to change things when I hear about plans for authoritarian China to deploy Chinese police officers in Taiwan, or when a Hakka Taiwanese is told by the authorities that he cannot obtain a license for his company because the proposed name of said company alludes to a pro-independence movement from years ago? This is not mere missionary zeal, or an odd twist on the “white man’s burden” (which begs the question: have my accusers managed to rid themselves of their colonial mindset?) — this is the real, selfish desire to live in a place that is free and democratic, the same desire that animated me when I sought to do by part for the community in Montreal, or afterwards in Ottawa.
In the modern world, the very terms “foreigner,” “waiguoren” and “expatriate” have become antiquated, a provincial viewpoint on locality that does not stand scrutiny. As the yellow banners in the picture above clearly state, Taiwan is my country. I may have been born a Canadian, but right now Taiwan is my home.
Should the “foreigners” who have made Taiwan their home, who have developed roots here and care about the place, get involved? You betcha!