Taiwanese Women United – The 2012 NATWA Convention

When Monique Hawthorne first approached me about being on a panel at the NATWA Annual Convention about mother/daughter relationships, I was a little hesitant.  My relationship with my mother is fraught at best, and I still feel a little bit like an interloper in the Taiwanese community – like I’m doing my best to fit in by waving a drink around, but everyone knows I wasn’t really invited to the party – so I hedged for several months before finally saying yes. It turned out to be a really wonderful event – I even went salsa dancing!

But first, I missed the flight.

Somehow, I had convinced myself that the flight was at 8:45AM when it was really at 7:10AM. So there I was still in Brooklyn while my plane took off, making panicky emails and phone calls. Luckily, I managed to get on a stand-by flight, but it gave me a six hour layover in Chicago. So I met up with my friend Jason Economus whom I had met at the DirectorsLabChicago and had a drink at 3:00 in the afternoon. Not my usual habit. Really. But I figured, well, I was just getting on another plane.

Cubs fans on the Chicago bus back to the airport.

The flight from Chicago to San Jose was spent talking to the guy sitting next to me about economics, children, his new franchise and my film projects. I learned that he was in the military and stationed in Berlin right before the fall of the wall. It was a really interesting conversation, but then the lady behind me told me I was talking too loudly and she wanted to get some sleep. I can’t seem to help that – even my son, who should be used to it, keeps accusing me of shouting at him. So I shut up and went to sleep until the plane landed.

After checking into the Crowne Plaza Hotel, I went up to my room and met my roomie Marilyn Fu. I think I was talking too loudly to her too. But she didn’t seem to mind too much since she invited me to breakfast with her mom the next morning. Wow, breakfast. First thing I gravitated to was the bucket of muey, watery rice porridge that is the quintessential Taiwanese breakfast. Haven’t had it in ages. Especially with the salted duck egg and fermented tofu that was also on the table. For the non-Taiwanese, this probably sounds really gross – but for me, it’s comfort food, a taste of home. And the women at breakfast, they were also a taste of home. As salty as that duck egg, as simple and homespun as that rice porridge. There are no demure geishas in Taiwan. I was reminded that the Taiwanese stereotype (for better or for worse) is earthy to the point of vulgarity. The room was full of women all as loud as I am. It was so refreshing to feel absolutely no need to tone things down. So great to be among three hundred other ladies who talk, eat and laugh loudly, with unapologetic gusto. Breakfast ended with the current NATWA President, Anna Chang, marching through the dining hall in a hot pink suit, all five feet nothing of her, rounding all the ladies up by clapping her hands and shouting, “Kei-shi! Kei-shi! [It’s starting! It’s starting!]”

Hochie Tsai is that small figure way in front of the crowd.

The presentation that Saturday morning consisted of a discussion on women’s rights (I learned a lot of new vocabulary words) followed by a presentation by Hochie Tsai of www.TaiwaneseAmerican.com, which reassured the largely older NATWA crowd that there is an active second generation of Taiwanese-Americans, including, of course, NATWA 2, the second-generation group of Taiwanese-American women that organized the panel that I was to be on the next day.  He also disclosed that after the campaign to write in “Taiwanese” in the 2010 Census, the number of self-identified Taiwanese in the country grew from about 150,000 to over 400,000. Which is pretty amazing and made me think perhaps I could capitalize on this somehow to find funds to finish the film.

Other highlights include lunch at a fantastic halal Chinese restaurant, an eye-opening discussion by Monique Hawthorn and Michi Fu on 5 Love Languages, and the Saturday night talent show, in which the San Diego chapter NATWA choreographed a dance to Beat It (complete with zombie NATWA lady) and the entire convention hall erupted in a flashmob dance.

Speaking of dance, later that night, I was convinced to go salsa dancing with the indefatiguable Shu-Jon Mao, the de-facto NATWA II photographer. About five of us rolled into a strip mall dance club somewhere in San Jose, where a fantastic band was playing, Saboricua. Michi turned out to be a great dancer and a Mexican guy fell in love with Erica Liu.

Shu-Jon Mao (L) dancing in San Jose.

I got back to the hotel from salsa dancing at around 2 in the morning but managed to wake up at 7 without too much of a struggle. Marilyn and I went down to the convention room to test out our tech devises. I got another bowl of muey, this time with ba hu – dried pork shavings, the Taiwanese equivalent of bacon bits. Um, yes, I am vegetarian. Except when I am Taiwanese.

We were on the panel with Marijane Buck-Nguyen, who thought she was Japanese/Vietnamese her whole life until she discovered her adoption certificate after her adopted mother died and learned that she is really Taiwanese. During the Convention, we were basically foisting all manner of Taiwanese food on Marijane – like, OMG, how can she be Taiwanese and never have had a bah-zhang before??!! And at dinner on Sunday, I discovered that she didn’t know any of the history. As I began to describe 228, Monique exclaimed, “Great! You’re sitting next to Victoria and she’s the perfect person to tell you about Taiwan’s history.” Yeah, by now, I’m used to condensing 100 years of complex history into five (loud) action-packed minutes.

Between the three of us, we had very different experiences of growing up Taiwanese and also vastly different relationships with our mothers. I think I must have told Marilyn five times how jealous I am of her terrific bond with her mother, who has been so supportive of her as a screenwriter, and who was even sitting in the front row. All the older ladies in the audience laughed when I ruefully described how my mother has called me ya zha bo my whole life. It translates to crazy girl or wild thing, basically nuts with a hint of nympho slut. After the panel, I remembered one story that I didn’t tell – about some older woman who took both of my hands after a fundraising event for Almost Home: Taiwan and said, “Guai, tzu guai.” I nearly burst into tears – no one had ever called me obedient before – it’s one of the highest praises you can get from an older family member. Me? Obedient? Wow.

Marilyn before the panel. Marijane is rooting through her bag in the background.

My view of the crowd at the panel. Here, they are all watching Marijane's powerpoint presentation.

I was basically pretty blown away by the convention. After the questions were over, Anna Chang, the diminutive force who is current president of NATWA, presented us with a plaque and a gorgeous silk scarf designed by a NATWA sister. It really does feel like a sisterhood – I’ve never felt so valued and appreciated. For someone like me who deals with constant rejection as an artist and who is always struggling to find support, it was so affirming. Thank you for inviting me, NATWA 2. I’ll be there next year!

The NATWA 2 sisters. And Hochie Tsai. (Courtesy of Hochie Tsai - http://www.TaiwaneseAmerican.com).

One response to “Taiwanese Women United – The 2012 NATWA Convention

  1. Dear Victoria,
    Please contact me, NATWA is interesting to use this article in NATWA Magazine fall isues.

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