I’ve grown up in a country that is a superpower, a culture that is central to what is popular. My country is too big to miss in land size and media coverage. All of our pictures of the world have the USA in the middle. They say when you look at a group picture, you always look for yourself first, but imagine you are always the smallest in the pictures. Sometimes you are partially blocked by another person. Sometimes they forget to include you in the picture at all. This is how it is to be from Taiwan. As we learn, we always think of how we place our self in the new information. If this is true of our personal identity, it is true for our national identity as well.
It is bizarre to teach English as foreign language versus as a second language. Here in Taiwan, many of my students have never left Asia, so they are slowly realizing the reality of being a minority on a global scale. All of the children have differing responses as their national identity begins to form. Those who have visited other countries have a desire to leave, treating Taiwan as an embarrassing parent they don’t want to be seen with. Still, most of the kids love Taiwan. Whenever we talk about the world they constantly ask me to show them how Taiwan fits into it, how they fit in. Where was Taiwan during WWII? What has Taiwan invented, created, added to culture? If Italy looks like a boot, what does Taiwan look like, a cookie?
When I was a child, these questions were easily answered for me as an American; the “we” was easily identified in every setting. We won WWII. We invented the light bulb. I can see the disappointment when the children realize they have been passed over. Taiwan is clumped together with China in country profiles, in Olympic events, and in histories. It is seen huddled next to China like a sullen younger brother. The reality of living in a country where in almost every respect you are a minority historically, physically, and politically is one hard to grasp by the kids. I can’t fathom what it is like. Their perspective, peeking out from this muggy island into a world, must be fascinating, frustrating and funny. I just hope they are proud as they grow older. They have accomplished so much. They had tallest building, one of the best metros and some of the greatest minds. For a country where it is technically only the year 105 that is pretty impressive.