Tamkang University professor shares pride of being second-generation immigrant

TAIPEI (The China Post) — The population of new immigrants in Taiwan has reached more than 500,000, of which Southeast Asian spouses account for about 40% of all foreigners.

They have taken root in Taiwan, made new families, and raised a whole new generation.

With more than one million new immigrants and second-generation immigrants in total, they have become a force in Taiwan that cannot be ignored.

However, the mainstream society in Taiwan oftentimes still discriminates against the new immigrants from Southeast Asia, which not only makes these new “Taiwanese” estranged from their environment but also causes their second-generation children to feel self-conscious about their identities, sometimes going as far as to hide it and stop learning or using their mother’s native language.

Keng Kim-yung (何景榮) a professor at Tamkang University and the son of a new immigrant, felt deeply about this issue and shared how he chose to face discrimination with a positive attitude and break the deep-rooted stereotypes prevalent in society.

In an interview with The China Post and 4-Way Voice, Keng said he is different from other second-generation children in that he takes pride in his mother being Indonesian; furthermore, he’s even more proud of speaking fluent Chinese and Indonesian.

He believes that the identity of being a second-generation immigrant is an advantage rather than a disadvantage for him.

With a Taiwanese father and an Indonesian mother, Keng was born in Indonesia but moved to Taiwan shortly afterward.

He grew up in a bilingual environment, speaking both Chinese and Indonesian, and voiced his opinion that the only thing that makes him different from “native” Taiwanese children is that he can speak Indonesian since he was a small child.

He stressed that more than 80% of the second-generation children in Taiwan do not speak the language of their mother or father’s hometown, for which he felt was a pity.

Keng recalled always enjoying the privilege of speaking Indonesian with his mother since he was a child and jokingly pointed out that the biggest advantage is that he can speak ill of others in public places, and they can’t understand it.

He was always a straight-A student, and whenever he got high marks in his Chinese exams, his classmates would often ask him in a half-mocking and half-jokingly way, “You are Indonesian; how did you do so well on the Chinese test?”

He admitted that every time he heard this, he couldn’t help feeling smug, silently thinking that his classmate had lost to an “Indonesian” their own language.

“I have always felt that being a second-generation immigrant is a great motivation force because we are the most international group of Taiwanese.”

He revealed his hopes to encourage all second-generation children that “bilingual children definitely have an advantage.”

In a 2019 article published by Michigan State University titled “Advantages of a Bilingual Brain,” the author mentioned that bilingual children have a better ability to focus on one thing and are able to easily change their responses, showing their “cognitive flexibility.”

Keng pointed out that a person will not become less proficient in one language when learning another.

He hopes to use his own example to encourage the second-generation children who have the same background as him, explain the benefits of their mother tongue and inspire them to be proud of their identities.

He noted that many people in Taiwan still hold certain prejudices against new immigrants, believing that they are not competent or that the Chinese-speaking or reading ability of the second-generation Taiwanese is not as good as that of natives.

He recalled when he finished his Ph.D. degree, professors and deans of national universities asked him for his opinion on whether they should add a special course to strengthen the Chinese ability of second-generation Taiwanese “like him.”

As the professors held onto the stereotype of thinking” second-generation children are not proficient in Chinese”, Keng said he couldn’t help but think that he is obviously no different from other Taiwanese, and even surpassed the average person to get a scholarship to study for a doctoral degree in the United States.

In addition, he pointed out that he usually communicates with others in Chinese; so how could this possibly be interpreted as him being “bad at Chinese?” He questioned whether this should be considered discrimination or a simple misunderstanding.

Keng once represented the Taiwan People’s Party in running for a legislator position in 2019. He remarked that he decided to run for the election because he wanted everyone to see him say, “Hi! I can speak Chinese, and my ability to argue and curse will never be inferior to any other ordinary Taiwanese person.”

He also actively strives for the opportunity to showcase his eloquence on political talk shows, and pens columns in newspapers and magazines to let everyone know the truth about second-generation children and their abilities.

Even though he lost the election in the end, Keng did not regret his decision to participate in the election. At least through this political action, he personally stood on the front line, interacted with the people face to face, subverted the old stereotypes of Taiwan society, and enabled Taiwanese natives to see the true ability and potential of new immigrants.