New Immigrants Still Struggle with Stereotypes in Taiwan

Shu-Juan Shan, the new immigrant, prepared for her cuisine competition. Photo/Chia-Yu Chao
Writter/CHIA-YU CHAO, MU-GE MA, CHING-TE GUO, YI-CEN LI

Seeking a better life, Mei-Qing Wen, a Vietnamese bride, decided to turn to the mercenary marriage, crossing the seas to marry a unknown Taiwanese. She has made every effort to create a new destiny of her own while trying to overcome countless obstacles here.

Many newcomers like Wen migrated from the Southeast Asian and other countries to Taiwan for a better fortune via a marriage deal, despite its potential harms on both sides of the trade.

A new immigrant woman participates in the educational meeting with her baby.
Photo/Zhi-Xin Lin

 

Number of Newcomers Continues to Grow

Over the past decades, cross-cultural marriages — interracial, interethnic and interreligious — have steadily increased. According to National Immigration Agency’s data, by the end of last year, 542,677 foreign-born spouses, including those from the Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao have applied for naturalization or acquired a residence permit.

Of them, the Vietnamese have the highest rate at 20 percent, followed by Indonesians, Thais, Filipinos, Cambodians, and others. A study by Zhi-Xian Chen, an assistant professor of social work at Tajen University, suggested that cross-cultural marriages are a tricky undertaking due to their varying heritages; language difference alone is a sizeable barrier to overcome.

“Many new residents who came from the Southeast Asia were struggled with the barriers in language, lifestyle and cultural difference,” said Ching-Yun Lu, executive secretary of the Learning Center of the New Residents in Taoyuan City. “They have been confronted with the difficulties in rearing their children. Besides, the ‘foreign brides’ label has themselves subject to some sort of discrimination.”

 

Marriage Trading Is A Big Gambling on Future

As a Vietnamese bride, Wen, now 42, got married and moved to Taiwan 20 years ago and had to start anew as a foreign spouse to try to fit in. Speaking no Mandarin, she had to learn the language by watching a lot of TVs when she arrived in this “new world.”

What hurt Wen emotionally the most was the occasional ridicules she heard about the foreign brides. She said, “The elderly think foreign brides come here for money when some as reported in the news ran away after getting the money.”

Wen decided to move to Taiwan by marrying to a Taiwanese she had never met in a way to improve her family’s life and hopefully her own fate. She said she was raised by her grandmother in a slum. “But most of the Taiwanese seem to hold the stereotype about foreign brides like me and avoid us like a plague.”

Mrs. Wen participates in the competition. Provided by /Mrs. Wen

She added that she was left to her grandmother after her parents got divorced when she was little. “So, the Marriage Agency became my last hope to get rid of poverty,” said she, who left Vietnam for Taiwan when she was only 22 years old.

Getting married to a stranger and moving to a foreign country is very challenging for her. But the hope for a new and better life brought her here. “No doubt that this marriage is a big gamble,” she said. “But, if you live a happy marriage, there is no reason to run away.”

Not every foreign bride is as lucky as she is when foreign brides are seen as the “money liar.” Wen said, “I have to admit that I was initially coming here for money, but then I changed my mind.” She said that she came to realize that it’s better to put efforts into learning the new environment, instead of succumbing self to others’ hostilities. “The more you learn, the more you will earn.”

Such stereotypical issues bug not only the new residents but also their children. Miss Zhao, who is unwilling to be identified, said that she was rejected by her peers because of her being a child of the new inhabitants.

“Because my parents moved from the Mainland to Taiwan, my classmates called me a wastrel,” She recalled, adding that she has been consistently ridiculed throughout her growth. “I am no different from others; the only difference is my identity.”

With an increasing number of new residents taking root in Taiwan, the foremost mission for them is to try hard to get accepted to the somewhat intolerant society, and break the stereotype about them, said Lu, the executive secretary of the learning center.

 

Endeavors to Change in Taiwan

“If you don’t take your first step forward, you will make no progress,” urged Shu-Juan Shan, a Chinese expatriate in Myanmar who has lived in Taoyuan for 17 years. She said she firmly believes that the new residents have to change their mindset and behavior, so that the society will gradually accept them.

Shu-Juan Shan, the new immigrant, prepared for her cuisine competition. Photo/Chia-Yu Chao

The first change she made was to participate in a cuisine competition for cross-cultural families and bring her hometown-style delicacy to the local communities. The cuisines won her the top-10 awards for Taoyuan MIT Gifts.

She said she constantly interacted with other participants from different countries to improve her cooking skills and finally got the nod from the judges, winning the first prize. “This award is not only a recognition of Myanmar’s food and culture, but also a recognition of being the new residents who integrate into Taiwan’s society.”

Shan added that she really appreciates the opportunity to take part in the competition and feels so grateful for the attention every competitor and judges gave her.

However, only few immigrants can successfully adapt to the new environment in Taiwan while retaining their hometown characteristics and unique culture like Shan’s, and most of the new residents are still in an effort to prove themselves.

Wen stressed that her studying in school is not to get a new Taiwanese identity, but to learn more about this culture in that it is the best way to fit in the Taiwanese society, which in turn can help her better educate her child. This learning opportunity enabled her to meet with various kinds of people.

 

Incessant Efforts Facilitate Integration

As opposed to the misperception, the new residents are not the least educated group of people in this country, Lu says. Their active learning and communication are increasingly changing how the society amicably sees them as they are enriching the local culture.

Lu’s learning center provides not only basic language courses for those who migrated from overseas, but also trainings in hairdressing or baking to enhance their working capabilities and therefore job prospects. Lu underscored that Wen’s story is a case where new immigrants endeavor to utilize what they learned in Taiwan with their own cultural backgrounds. Wen is now serving as an instructor in Southeast Asian cultures in another school.

“Once you get out of your circle and make new friends, you will know how to change yourself,” Shan advised. Both Shan and Lu encourages these newcomers to keep trying and making necessary changes, finding an effective way to become part of the society.