Open Letter from Jimmy Yang
A note to my fellow Taiwanese American friends and family:
I had a revelatory experience this past 4th of July weekend. For the first time in almost 20 years, I went back to the Taiwanese American Conference/East Coast (TAC/EC). This started because my mother-in-law recommended that my wife and I consider attending this year’s TAC/EC in East Stroudsburg University, PA which was only an hour away from where we live.
Admittedly, my wife and I had not given TAC/EC much thought in the many years since graduating from college and getting swept up in the adventures of adulthood, be it graduate school, marriage, or our careers. It’s no surprise that I began treating my Taiwanese American identity as an afterthought as we got caught up in that vortex of responsibility.
However, for me, parenthood has changed all that in some way. My wife and I have always lamented the thought that our two girls would probably grow up not truly understanding their Taiwanese heritage. It was with that thought in mind that we figured we’d go for the Hail Mary and scout what TAC/EC had to bring in today’s age.
To our great surprise, we discovered that a formal program called TANG (Taiwanese American Next Generation) has blossomed within TAC/EC, and is geared specifically towards 2nd and 3rd generation Taiwanese Americans. It came as an immense relief realizing that I wouldn’t have to try to dust off my Mandarin/Taiwanese in an effort to attend lectures with our parents’ friends. Instead, I could truly enjoy connecting with other Taiwanese Americans who shared experiences and challenges specific to our generation.
The weekend turned out to be so much more than I expected. We reconnected with old college friends, long past our days running our Taiwanese American Student Association and ITASA. We met new friends who like us were returning to TAC/EC for the first time in years. During the meals when all 3 generations were in the same cafeteria, we had opportunities to talk to our parents’ friends, to our friends’ parents, and to our friends’ children (a highlight was introducing our 2 year old to her Great Uncle and Auntie for the first time). There was plenty of fun to be had, be it late night socials, watching the Taiwan Night performances amidst laughter and cheers, or lighting sky lanterns framed by fireworks from a neighboring town (I overheard one person saying, “Is there anything more perfectly Taiwanese American than floating lanterns and 4th of July fireworks?”)
Most evident is that there is strong leadership within TANG. There is a concerted effort by the young Taiwanese American women and men to take ownership of preserving our heritage, especially by encouraging participants to interact across all ages. Witnessing a volunteer staff of over 200+ Taiwanese Americans ensure that the program participants had an amazing time was evidence of the abundance of spirit and passion that will drive this community for years to come. I will forever remember the sight of seeing hundreds of Taiwanese American kids squeal and laugh in an epic water balloon fight, and then afterwards stand in a single line holding hands in solidarity as they prepared to clean up the field together. It was truly fitting that TANG’s theme this year was Kateeng, which means family.
So I just wanted to say that for those of you second generation Taiwanese American parents who might be in a similar boat as me and have been considering revisiting your ties to the Taiwanese American community, I encourage you to think about coming back to TAC/TANG in the future as your kids get older. After this weekend, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for my Mom and Dad introducing me to this amazing community of ours, and I hope that I might be able to do the same for my children as well. I’m proud to be Taiwanese American, and I look forward to coming back next year to see how this Kateeng (family) continues to evolve!
~ Jimmy Yang (and family)