My Heart is Breaking

taiwan.jgpI am an All-American Grrl.  I was born in Minneapolis, MN, and I am about as authentic as lutefisk, hot dish, and duck duck gray duck all rolled up into one.  I call myself Taiwanese American, but I am definitely more American than Taiwanese.  However, Taiwan is the motherland for me.  Both my parents were born and raised there.  They met in Tennessee while attending grad school.  My dad went to Vanderbuilt, and my mom attended Peabody.  They married when my mom’s visa ran out (my dad’s American house mom told him that it was the American way to marry the person you love), and then they moved to MN so my dad could get his Ph.D. in economics at the U.

They loved MN so much, they named me after it, but they never forgot from where they came.  They sent money back to my dad’s parents every month, oftentimes going without in order to do so.  They both worked full-time in addition to my father attending grad school.  They had my brother a year after they married, and I followed three years later.

For his whole life, my father has fought for the independence of Taiwan from China.  I have blogged before about marching the streets of Minneapolis as a kid and watching my dad on TV telling reporters why we were marching.  My dad was blacklisted from Taiwan for over twenty years.  If he had tried to go back, he would have been killed or put in jail.  He missed the funerals of both parents.

When he was finally able to return to Taiwan, he went for good.  He felt that there was a definite glass ceiling for him as an Asian man in America, and he chafed at being stuck in middle management.  He continued his fight for an independent Taiwan once he returned to Taiwan, and eight years ago, the first president of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected.  He was president for eight years, but he was not suited for the job.  During the last election, the Kuomintang ran a handsome, charismatic, but stupid candidate (at least, he’s considered handsome in Taiwan.  80% of Taiwanese women voted for him.  Personally, he does nothing for me, but you be the judge) and bought off many votes.  They won, sending my dad into a tizzy.  He is the president of  the Taiwanese Institute of Economic Research (TIER), and they rely on the government for projects, so he had to be diplomatic in his public reaction to the news.

Why am I talking about the country of my parents’ birth?  I just saw pictures from Typhoon Morakot, and it reminded me so much of the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina.  There are a few pictures of China in the batch, but they are mostly of the wreckage sprawled across the small island of Taiwan.  I looked at about ten of them before I had to quit.  My mom wanted me to look at more, but I couldn’t do it.  As I have said before, I absorb negative emotions (yes, even from pictures or print), and there was nothing but pain, fear, desolation, anger, and devastation in those pictures.  And death.  I mustn’t forget death.

A quick primer on Taiwan, told from a completely biased point of view:  It was filled with aborigines.  Then, four hundred years ago or so, people from the Fukien region migrated to Taiwan (called, among other things, Formosa).  They spoke Fukienese, which transformed into Taiwanese.  My ancestors were among those people.  Then, the Portugese and the Dutch colonized, though not at the same time.  Then the Japanese controlled the island for fifty years.

Then, we come to the fateful year:  1945.  Chiang Kai-shek got his ass kicked by Mao Tse-Tung and fled to Taiwan.  Since he had every intention of returning to the mainland someday, he didn’t much care what he did to Taiwan.  Everything he built was shoddy and poorly-designed.  He declared Mandarin to be the official language of Taiwan, and kids were forbidden from speaking Taiwanese in school.  As a result, my parents speak Taiwanese at home, but Chinese when they are out and about in Taiwanese society.

Anyway, Chiang Kai-shek never made it back to the mainland, obviously.  The KMT ruled with an iron fist for many years.  Then, a Taiwanese-born man became president, and things softened a bit.

This is the brief primer leading up to the current situation and why it reminds me of Hurricane Katrina.  As I said, Chiang Kai-shek didn’t give a shit about Taiwan, so most of what’s been built is substandard.  In addition, the government had been warned that a big typhoon was coming.  Details were given.  The government ignored the warnings, and Typhoon Morakot hit with a vengeance.  An entire village was consumed by a mudslide.  There have been more than  500 deaths reported, with between 1,900 and 10,000 people still stranded/missing (the discrepancy is because the government says that many of those in the mountains aren’t technically stranded).

The word from the ground is that President Ma refused help from outside countries for days after the typhoon hit the island.  There has been a lot of media spin (most of the media is controlled by the KMT), but people are angry.  I have read some of the comments on various websites, and many people are blaming the government in general and President Ma in specific.

It breaks my heart to look at the pictures and realize that these are the countrymen and women of my parents.  I am also angry because this is not getting much play in the American media.  I have mentioned before that I had a hard time getting all revved up for the Iran revolution because of how American media has ignored Taiwan’s political situation for as long as I can remember.  Taiwan has nothing to offer America except really good electronics.  Yes, they used to be shitty when I was a kid, but now, they are high-quality.  In addition, America probably doesn’t want to rile up China by being too sympathetic to Taiwan’s plight.  The struggle between China and Taiwan has been well-documented.

My brother, my niece, and I are planning to visit Taiwan over Christmas.  It will be the first time I’ve been there in sixteen years.  My brother hasn’t been in roughly thirty years.  My niece?  Her first time.  I was excited about going, but now it will be tinged with sadness.  I don’t believe  that every catastrophe can be prevented, but I do think the government has the responsibility to take the proper precautions to minimalize the damage when a catastrophe does occur. Just like W. totally fucked up during and after Hurricane Katrina, so did the Taiwaneses government in preparing for Typhoon Morakot.  Heck of a job, President Ma, heck of a job.

P.S.  My family is all present and accounted for, thank god.  My thoughts are with all those who have lost someone in the typhoon or who are awaiting word for a missing relative/friend.

5 Responses to My Heart is Breaking

  1. Minna, I can see the parallels between this and Katrina. What an awful situation. No wonder your father is so angry.

  2. I really have no words. Those images were heart wrenching, and the idea that the government would refuse help to “save face” at the expense of the people he was chosen to lead and protect is appalling.

    I’m really glad your family is ok, Minna.

  3. As you know, my family is from New Orleans, so when you say it makes you feel like to did watching Katrina, I feel your pain and share your anger. My sincerest sympathies, Minna.

  4. Thank you, everyone for your well wishes. It helps to know that I am not alone in my grief. My mom heard today from a colleague that a student of the colleague, the student’s mother and sibling all drown in the typhoon. My mom is a psychologist, and she has received many requests for her help. She is contemplating whether to return early.

    Choolie, yes, my dad really is having a hard time with this. I don’t blame him.

    Kel, it’s all about saving face, which makes me so mad. Precious time was wasted as President Ma did his best to pretend nothing big was happening.

    whabs, I don’t blame you. It was extremely hard for me to look at them.

    Gregory, it must have been so hard to watch the aftermath of Katrina when you have immediate family there. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone.

    Update: The areas that have been decimated are all rural and poor. That sounds hauntingly familiar as well.