Why I Went Back to Taiwan for College

Originally posted on my Facebook as a note on May 18, 2011

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I was reading an interview of Din Q. Le, the famous Vietnamese-American photographer/artist for fiction class and I couldn’t help but rereading some of his lines.

But for some of those who don’t know who he is, I should do a little explaining first. Dinh Q. Le is globally renowned for his work, especially photo-weaving, a process of taking different images, slicing them up, and weaving them into each other like a straw mat to create a sharply juxtaposing image that requires reinterpretation of an image. His most famous photo-weaving pieces are iconic Hollywood images with photos of Vietnamese suffering and devastation after the Vietnam War. He wanted people to know what was happening to the Vietnamese, not just the American veterans. Le is now based in Vietnam and is working out of Ho Chi Minh city even though his family sought asylum in the United States when he was 10.

In one of his documentary styled videos, there is interview footage of a young woman who has decided to come back to Vietnam like Le saying, “I hate it here but I’m stuck here. My heart is here.” Le himself says, “It doesn’t matter how many years we’re been in America or in the West, we’re still immigrants, still visitors. I don’t know how many generations it’s going to take before we’ll feel that we are not visitors. And for me, and maybe for all of us, there’s a feeling of floating, a temporary quality, of not taking root. She [the girl in the video] felt the deep connection [to Vietnam] but at the same time she is too Westernized. It was and still is a very difficult journey for her and many of us getting used to the way in Vietnam. We have difficulty in readjusting to the weather, people’s behaviors, living conditions… But there’s a kind of connection that you cannot see. It’s in her heart, it’s in her mind, it’s in her body, and it holds her there, and this is the root that I’m talking about.”

Over the years, as I’ve been tossed from place to place, continent to continent, I’ve struggled to find a place to take root in. But before roots can penetrate with soil and be unified with the earth, they’re always abruptly snatched up and transported to an unfamiliar environment. I wholly identify with the American culture; to be honest, the only thing that’s keeping me from being a true American is an American passport. But I’ve never 100% thought of the US as my home. But when I came back to Taiwan, everything felt right. Just like Le said or the girl in his video said, I don’t love everything about Taiwan. Sometimes I hate it, I despise it, I loathe it. But there’s something always pulling me back. It’s not the family, my parents aren’t even here; it’s not the language, my English is waaaay better than my Chinese; it’s not the culture, there are some customs I just do not understand; it’s not the people.

I don’t know what it is, and I think I’ll never be able to out right identify it. But it’s there. It’s unexplainable, just a gut instinct rooted deeply and firmly at the bottom of my heart.

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