by Terrence Cheromcka, 20
At NYU we call it “word-vomit.” It is a condition that usually suffers an English speaking American who was born with the unlimited freedom of speech. The condition was further spread, perhaps, by the ability to flash communicate, almost magically, with the wave of a text-messaging bond. I thought about “word-vomit” as I reflected upon a talk I had with a Taiwanese NYU freshman, who, for safety reasons we will call “Joe Lo.”
Let me explain. One Italian lesson required each of us students to compose a piece of news in Italian. I imagined a “Divine Comedy” theme park. Joe imagined that Taiwan had declared independence. When he handed the paper to the teacher he seemed shy and explained that it might sound ridiculous to her. I just had to ask…
I have never seen a person my age as thoughtful with his words as Joe. He thought before every statement he made (the perfect politician, I thought). I imagined him threading this feelings and thoughts together carefully behind closed doors. Joe Lo certainly had not caught the word-vomit bug and he might be immune.
Taiwan; The People’s Republic of China; Formosa; “The beautiful island” has been tossed about between the Dutch, rule in China, and Japan. Though it eventually gained political independence Taiwan have never been raised to nationhood independent from China. At one point in history Taiwan cut off communication with China; The two entities are on deeply different pages.
Joe Lo says he has been “sensitive” to the political matters in Taiwan since he was young. When he was in only 8th grade he remembers getting very “fired up” at the time when the Taiwanese government changed party-ties for the first time in fifty years. The boys I knew in 8th grade were getting fired up about me.
I joke. But Joe cannot because to him 8th grade was the time when China had 600 nuclear missiles aimed at his homeland, Taiwan. He didn’t even stop to pause at this statement: I interrupted and asked him if this threat scared him at the time and he said no. He realized no fear even though some years early China had actually succeeded in firing two missiles that landed off the coast of Taiwan? That he was not scared at all bewilders me.
I was a victim of collective girly insecurities while Joe was a victim, while attending boarding school in the US, of intellectual bullying. His friends poked fun at him by walking up to him and asking “Wait, if you are Taiwanese doesn’t that mean you are really Chinese?” And then they would walk away before he could defend his nationality. Joe is Taiwanese but imagine having the integrity of your identity doubted by those lacking understanding of you as a person. “Why should my identity even be questioned?” he said.
After talking to Joe I feel that we take for granted and discount our American identity and our American passport. My friend here in Florence is a $50 flight away from all of magnificent Europe but his Indian passport won’t let him leave Italy. Joe Lo admires that we, as Americans, can stand up and proclaim our nationality without being misunderstood at all. We, as Americans, can even insist on our multi-national roots. I am Polish-American, Scottish-American, British-American but really what am I? But really I am American and I am blessed that I can stake all of those dramatic claims without anyone questioning me like they do when Joe says he is Taiwanese.
Division is even evident on Wikipedia, our little toy. Joe wants to comment on the Wiki-page for the Republic of China but he can’t. He is afraid that the government would trace his comment back to him and he would get in trouble.
Joe’s goodness radiated through his words and I felt sorry: He wasn’t sure if he could be a politician or not. His mother made a beautiful point that, you know, we all have the potential for evil and being involved in politics tends to accentuate that evil. But I felt sorry because I think Joe would be just what Taiwan needs and would be a great politician (Not like the Taiwanese congressmen he told me about who stampeded through court rooms shouting and cursing–perhaps cursing their laundered money). His mother is right but I want for him to prove her wrong–isn’t that a child’s job anyways?
I can’t make sense of this identity crisis but I know how an identity crisis feels. My identity crises usually come from within, though, and I’m sure Joe has those too. In that case, these layers of identity might simultaneously exist in a way that my prideful American soul can’t imagine.
I write because I want people to think when they read what I write–maybe even leap into a new perspective. I want you to think about yourself, in terms of others. When I think about Joe I think about how Generation Y think about ourselves as citizens. With all his careful observations about his political and national identity does he even have time to think of the matters of identity that I think about? Religious identity is no factor in Taiwan’s identity crises but does that mean that “if it isn’t one thing it is the next” and religious questioning is just the next link in the chain of succession of the tug of war with identity and freedom from it’s restraints. Is it inevitable, for the rest of life, that identity will constantly be questioned and challenged? Is it, simply the human condition and is, perhaps, Joe in some way blessed because he can channel his frustrations about identity towards some ranting politicians rather than inwards, towards a suffering self?
Terrence Cheromcka, 20, has been part of Wild River Review’s staff for two years. She is currently studying Religious Studies at New York University.
To support WRR’s mission, and our commitment to support artists and good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.