Taiwanese should be treated like any other ethnicity

April 26, 2010 — by Jason Wu and Brandon Yang

With commercials on TV and large billboards for the 2010 Census everywhere, almost everyone knows about the forms they are suppose to fill out and mail back. In addition to all the ads placed by the US Census, another group, especially in Silicon Valley, has started its own campaign for the census: Write in “Taiwanese.”

Using websites such as Facebook and YouTube to spread the word, the Taiwanese American Citizens League (TACL) has been pushing Taiwanese immigrants and those of Taiwanese descent to check “other Asian” and write in Taiwanese instead of marking Chinese for their race, which many Taiwanese have done in the past, on the Census.

Because such a movement would create further support for the Taiwanese in the U.S., opposition has risen among those who believe that Taiwan is part of China. Since most Taiwanese Americans speak Mandarin and follow many traditions originating in China like Chinese Americans, many believe that Taiwanese should not be a considered a separate ethnicity. However, whether a person identifies him or herself as Chinese or Taiwanese should not be a political issue, and there are notable differences in Chinese and Taiwanese culture as well. The Taiwanese Americans have the right to establish themselves as a separate ethnic group, including on the census.

By establishing themselves as being different, the Taiwanese are not declaring Taiwan as a nation separate from China, just as a separate ethnic group. China currently has 56 different ethnic groups within its borders, from the Zhuang to the Tibetans. Although some of these minorities have had political issues concerning their sovereignty, much like the Taiwanese, China has recognized them as separate ethnic groups. By allowing Taiwanese to be a separate box on the census, the government would not be officially recognizing Taiwan as a separate nation, only as a different race.

While the Taiwanese do share cultural similarities with the Chinese, they have also established different traditions since moving from China to Taiwan a half century ago. The culture brought with immigrants from China has since been influenced by the aborigines who first lived on the island, the Japanese who occupied Taiwan for 50 years and the westerners who came to Taiwan since China was under Communist rule.

Because Taiwan is a subtropical island, different kinds of food, particularly seafood and certain fruits, have become an important part Taiwanese diets. Religious freedom under the Taiwanese government is also more prominent than in China, making mainly the traditional Buddhism and Taoism, as well as Catholicism and Protestantism, a larger part of the people’s lives. These are examples of some of the differences between Taiwanese and Chinese cultures.

In addition to changes such as food and religion, an important difference is in language. While most Taiwanese speak Mandarin, the majority also speak Taiwanese, a dialect of Chinese. Whereas the people in China have switched to Simplified Chinese characters, the Taiwanese have continued to use the Traditional Chinese characters. Such distinctions further show that Chinese and Taiwanese cultures are not the same.

Although there are certainly some Taiwanese who identify themselves as Chinese, or even both, having Taiwanese as a separate box on the census or any other form simply allows those who want to be recognized solely as Taiwanese to do so without infringing on anyone else. So if enough people do mark themselves as Taiwanese on the census, the government should treat them as it would treat any other ethnic group: Give them their own box on the 2020 census.

4 views this week