A Taiwanese American is an American of Taiwanese ancestry. Whether Taiwanese Americans also count as Chinese Americans, along with the status of Taiwan is a controversial issue especially among immigrants from Taiwan themselves. Of those originating from mainlander (waishengren) subgroup, some do not associate themselves as being "Taiwanese American" at all, often because they were only in Taiwan for a decade or so. Conversely, a small number of others, mainly originating from the native Taiwanese (benshengren) subgroup do not consider Taiwan part of China, and therefore do not regard themselves as "Chinese American."
However, most immigrants from Taiwan tend to conceptualize themselves as both Chinese American and Taiwanese American, and most do not object to the term, unless it is used in a context to imply that Taiwanese are not Chinese, or when it involves the question of the political status of Taiwan.
From the late 1950s until the 1970s, many well educated Taiwanese came to the United States to fill in the brain drain going on at the time, forming the first wave of post-war ethnic Chinese immigration. Their entry into the United States was facilitated by the immigration act of 1965, which removed many of the restrictions against Chinese immigration.
Before the late 1960s, Taiwanese immigrants to the United States tended to be Mainlander Taiwanese while later immigrants tended to increasingly be benshengren or native Taiwanese. With improving economic conditions in Taiwan, Taiwanese immigration to the United States began to subside in the early-1980s. The proportion of Mainlander Taiwanese among Americans originating from Taiwan is somewhat higher than in the population in Taiwan.
Taiwanese immigration had decreased by the 1990s, although there still has been some migration to the United States, especially among Taiwanese males who wish to avoid Taiwan's mandatory military conscription or to bypass the stringent academic requirements and extremely competitive nature of Taiwan's universities. This sub-group of Taiwanese immigrants are called "parachute kids", whose parents have sent their children off to the United States to supposedly seek opportunities and to fend for themselves. Some "parachute kids" are settled in affluent communities - for example, in San Marino, California - with a house and a car purchased for them by their parents. The parents usually remain in Taiwan.
Most Taiwanese in America are very well educated: doctors, engineers, professors and scientists and took up positions in America in aerospace, defense, research, academics, and healthcare. Among Taiwanese Americans, medicine is regarded as a particularly high status for historical reasons. During the Japanese administration of Taiwan before 1945, native Taiwanese were barred from politics and administration but were encouraged to become doctors and nurses, leading to this profession being regarded as a high status means of social advancement.
In the 1960s, many chose to make America their permanent home and had children in the U.S. By the late 1970s, improving economic conditions in Taiwan slowed the rate of immigration. During the 1990s, political liberalization in Taiwan encouraged many who had left Taiwan for political reasons to return.
Legally, the children of Taiwanese parents in the United States are considered to be both American citizens and citizens of the Republic of China. Although the United States requires immigrants to renounce their original citizenship, the government on Taiwan does not recognize this renounciation and considers Taiwanese immigrants with American citizenship to continue to be citizens of the Republic of China.
Politically, Taiwanese Americans play a fairly active role in the politics and culture of the Republic of China which is aided in large part by recognition of dual citizenship. The identity politics of Taiwan also influences at least first generation Taiwanese Americans. Taiwanese Americans tended to come from the political and economic elite, and as such tended to be either strongly supportive of the Kuomintang or Taiwanese independence. On the one hand, many future Kuomintang officials including Lee Tenghui, James Soong and Ma Ying-Jeou received their education in the United States. On the other hand, the United States was a major destination where anti-Kuomintang figures such as Peng Ming-min and Shih Ming-Te were effectively exiled. Still others including Lee Yuantze were educated in the United States.
The close connections between Taiwan and the United States has led to some interesting political dynamics. From time to time, the issue of loyalty to Taiwan is raised. For example, James Soong has been criticized for having extensive property holdings in the United States and for the fact that his children are American citizens. Similarly, this has been raised as an issue in the feud between Li Ao and Lee Yuantze, whose children are also American citizens. This issue is partly one of socio-economic status as people with extensive connections with the United States are considered richer and more privileged than the average Taiwanese.
However, this issue has not become a large part of Taiwanese political discourse largely because links with the United States are so extensive on both sides of the political spectrum, that no one can use this issue to their political advantage. Both the pan-Blue coalition and pan-Green coalition rely on Taiwanese Americans for votes, and an estimated 10,000 Taiwanese Americans traveled to Taiwan to vote in presidential elections, and both groups campaigned extensively in the United States and held campaign rallies on Taiwan to welcome their voters.
While dual citizens are banned from high political office, there has not been an significant movement within Taiwan to ban dual citizenship in general.
Taiwanese immigrants and the native-born
First generation immigrants from Taiwan usually share a common language, Mandarin, although many also speak the Taiwanese language (a variant of Hokkien). As with most immigrants to the United States, linguistic fluency in the heritage language quickly disappears in the second generation.
Many Taiwanese immigrants have not settled in the old Cantonese-speaking Chinatowns. Instead, they have generally immigrated directly to American suburbia and in effect, they started new ethnic Chinese communities or so-called new "Chinatown" communities. The Taiwanese emigres were instrumental in the development of new "Chinatowns" in Monterey Park, California and vicinity and Flushing, New York.
Areas with high concentrations of Taiwanese immigrants include the San Gabriel Valley, Silicon Valley and southern Orange County in California, and Houston, Texas. The Taiwanese population was formerly dominant in Monterey Park, California. In recent years, however, large numbers of Taiwanese Americans have begun moving out to more upscale neighborhoods, with immigrants from the People's Republic of China taking their place.
Organizations geared towards Taiwanese Americans include the Formosan American Professional Association and the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association. In addition, most cities with concentrations of Taiwanese Americans have a Taiwan association.
Taiwanese American media
The Taiwanese also run several of North America's major Chinese-language newspapers, such as the World Journal, which is a conservative paper, and the International Daily News, a liberal paper. However, these influential and highly-circulated newspapers are not geared solely to the Taiwanese, but they serve the Chinese-speaking immigrant readership.
There are several businesses targeted towards the Taiwanese American immigrant population, such as the 99 Ranch Market chain. Other well-known Taiwanese American businesses include Lollicup (serving boba tea) and Shau May Restaurant (serving Taiwanese cuisine).
Prominent Taiwanese Americans
Michael Chang, tennis star
Elaine Chao, politician
David Chu, co-founder of Nautica
- James Chu , founder of computer monitor company ViewSonic in Walnut, California
David Ho, medical researcher
Ang Lee, film director
Henry Lee, forensic expert
Wen Ho Lee, engineer falsely accused of spying
Jerry Yang, computer scientist and entrepreneur, co-founder of Yahoo!
Last updated: 05-18-2005 00:08:15