ITASA – the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association

Originally published in the Taiwan Tribune in 1994

Mission Statement:

The Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association is a network of college students who come together based on a common Taiwanese heritage to provide a support group, to facilitate the defining of an individual’s Taiwanese American identity, and to actively afford an opportunity to address issues and concerns of Taiwan and Taiwanese Americans.

The 2nd Generation Taiwanese American Youth Movement: The Formation of ITASA

by

Tim Chuang (now Tim Chng) – Chicago, IL

Ula Hwang – New York, NY

Cindy Yeh – Washington D.C.

A vision is created

Once upon a time, during the 1990 Taiwanese American conference / East Coast summer conference (TAC/EC) at Cornell University, a number of concerned collegiate Taiwanese Americans gathered in the lounges of Mary Donlon Hall to discuss the future of their community into the night.  They discussed many questions about Taiwan, the role of Taiwan in their lives, and what exactly it meant to be Taiwanese American.  The questioning led to talk on their future role in organizations such as the Taiwanese Association of America (TAA) and what would become of the Taiwanese American community as they became adults.  After much debate, a vision for the immediate future was created — a vision of a network of Taiwanese American collegiate students.  The individuals present at this meeting were thought of as “seeds”, seeds that would return to their respective campuses to grow and spread the knowledge about their identity and their Taiwanese heritage.  By maintaining the friendships made at the various Taiwanese American conferences, these individuals hoped to take a more assertive role toward their identity.

Meanwhile in the midwestern region, the Taiwanese American foundation (TAF) 1990 Summer Camp also addressed the conspicuous void of an organized youth movement by introducing a college program.  This program, organized by Bob Lin (Dallas, Texas) also provided an impetus for Taiwanese American college students to take action on their campuses.

Separate collegiate efforts

Throughout the 1990-1991 school year, many Taiwanese Americans clubs were founded all over the Midwest and the East Coast.  Efforts at communication among these new Taiwanese American student groups laid the foundations of a larger Taiwanese American student network.  The Midwest region was led by members of the Purdue Taiwanese Students Association (PTSA), directed by Tim Chuang/Chng (Purdue University), and the Taiwanese American Students Club (TASC) at the University of Illinois, founded by Rolla Chuang/Chng (University of Illinois).  These two clubs worked together to sponsor one of the first intercollegiate activities in inviting Columbus Leo (Leo Yeh-Seh) to speak about his experience as a political prisoner in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Winston Yang (Columbia University), Peilan Chiu (University of Pennsylvania), and Ula Hwang/Cindy Yeh (Yale University) brought members of their respective Taiwanese American clubs as well as other students to the Columbia campus in hopes of also motivating Taiwanese Americans to action.  Students from Amherst, Barnard, Smith, U Penn, and Yale attended this gathering.

One of the few bridges between the Midwest and the East Coast was a newsletter entitled “Ilha Formosa”, which was established that year by Tim Chuang/Chng.  With a circulation of approximately 1000 individuals across America, the newsletter had a clear focus on Taiwanese Americans, and it hoped to communicate concerns that they all had to face as people of color living in the United States.

Tying it together: summer networking

Again, the summer conferences of 1991 came, and again, strides toward solidifying a Taiwanese American student network were made. Tim Chuang/Chng acted as a link between the summer conferences, traveling to 6 conferences in all as a part of a new internship at the Asia Resource Center. The purpose of this internship, which was funded by the Taiwan Foundation and other generous individuals, was to promote the idea of networking among Taiwanese Americans.  At these conferences, Tim either held workshops or helped organize the youth programs.

Meanwhile, at the 1991 TAC/EC conference, Ula Hwang (Yale University) proposed that an intercollegiate students conference be organized : This gathering would be structured much like TAC/EC conferences and be comprised of workshops, lectures, and social activities.  Commitments were made by the Taiwanese students clubs at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University to cohost the first East Coast conference to be held in Philadelphia.  The confidence to overcome the anxieties over this groundbreaking conference was provided by the guaranteed support of TAC/EC, The Chen Wen Chen Memorial Fund, and many private donors.  The organizers at U. Penn and Yale University decided to call their conference ITSA (the Intercollegiate Taiwanese Students Association).

The first intercollegiate conferences: ITSA and TAScon

In January, 1992, over 200 Taiwanese American collegians from across the Midwest and the East Coast attended the first conference which outreached to the Taiwanese American collegiate community.  Under the direction of Peilan Chiu and Morris Tsai, the conference’s theme was “Who are you?”, and it focused on understanding the essence of the Taiwanese American identity. Speakers discussed a series of topics regarding Taiwan’s political future.

ITSA Organizers at University of Pennsylvania

Ula Hwang, Morris Tsai, Peilan Chiu, Cindy Yeh

Then in March, 1992, Rolla Chuang/Chng, aided by Felicia Lin and others at the University of Illinois, convened another conference called Taiwanese American Students Conference (TAScon) at the University of Illinois.  Representatives from Purdue, Michigan’s newly started Taiwanese American Students for Awareness (TASA), and several other schools attended.

Improving on the foundations : ITASA’s new look

At the conclusion of the 1991-1992 school year, students from various Midwest and East Coast colleges met at the University of Pennsylvania for a meeting about the future of these Taiwanese American collegiate conferences.  At this meeting, the participants decided to rename the organization the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA).  This new name more accurately reflects the nature of the organization as not only being Taiwanese, but also American.

During the summer of 1992, Stephen Chen (Emory University) took over Tim Chuang/Chng’s summer internship.  Stephen’s activism helped spread the word about ITASA to the various conferences, this time also including the South Eastern Taiwanese American community. Together, Tim and Stephen worked at these summer conferences in hopes of carrying on the vision.

At TAC/EC 1992 at the University of Massachusetts, more steps were taken toward formalizing ITASA’s structure.  Officers were chosen for ITASA, and/it was decided that the newsletter “Ilha Formosa” would be discontinued in favor of starting a joint newsletter called the “ITASA Tribune”

1992-3 : the wellspring of ITASA activity

The 1992-3 school year witnessed a burst of enthusiasm and commitment by Taiwanese American students in several regions of North America. In the fall of 1992.  Students at the University of Illinois and Brown University each sponsored a Taiwanese Cultural conferences at their respective schools.  Felicia Lin led the efforts at the University of Illinois, and Sabrina Su spearheaded the conference organizing at Brown University. Both conferences achieved their objective of presenting the cultural aspects of Taiwan, through the use of lectures, hands-on workshops, and performances.  These conferences further helped to publicize ITASA’s existence to students.

In January of 1993, Yale University presented the Second ITASA/East Coast conference which attracted over 350 students from schools across the Midwest, East Coast, the South, and even Canada.  The main organizers of this conference were Janice Cheng, Ula Hwang, Judy Lin, and Cindy Yeh.  In addition to the numerous lectures and workshops, the highlight of the conference was a panel discussion concerning Independence or Unification of Taiwan with Mainland.

Also that spring, the ITASA/Midwest conference was held at Purdue University. Tim Chuang/Chng and Lynn Lue led the efforts there and presented a conference featuring Ramsey Clark (former attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson) as the keynote speaker.

The ITASA activism sparked our Canadian neighbors, under the leadership of Euger Lin and Patrick Leu, into holding the ITASA/Canada conference at the University of Western Ontario. This conference represented one of the first organized displays of activism toward their Taiwanese identity by Taiwanese Canadian students.

The most recent activity which ITASA has sponsored was a cultural conference at the University of Michigan.  Held in October, 1993, this conference was a rousing success highlighted by a Taiwan Night Celebration.  The Taiwan Night performances as well as the other events clearly focused on the Taiwanese American experience with a look to the future.

1993 ITASA leadership retreat

Back – Rolla Chng, Ula Hwang, Morris Tsai, Felicia Lin, Alvin Wang, Stephen Chen, Tim Chng, Joyce Chen Hsueh Front – Janice Cheng Lim, Sabrina Su, Neill Tseng, Erica Cheng Lee, Cindy Yeh

Throughout it all, the key tool in maintaining communication in the ITASA network was Electronic mail.  Taiwanese Americans transmitted messages and articles, and the core organizers held weekly conference meetings over Internet Relay Chat (IRC).  (For those who are interested in learning more about ITASA over e-mail, please send mail to putaiwan@sage.cc.purdue.edu).

Conclusion

The dreams created in the summer of 1990 have become a reality with the formation of ITASA. As more and more Taiwanese Americans become drawn into ITASA, the strength of this student network grows, and the prospects of an active future remain bright.

While ITASA has found strong roots primarily on the East Coast and in the Midwest, it is hoped that ITASA will expand into other regions of the country. With time, effort, and the continued support of the Taiwanese American community in the United States, ITASA will only continue to flourish and grow.

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International politics in the Asian American Data Disaggregation Debate

Yesterday, I had an online discussion with Professor Oiyan Poon and Giles Li about the ongoing controversy regarding Asian American data disaggregation.  As we know, to be an “Asian” includes an extremely diverse group of peoples with a wide range of histories.  Asian Americans will not only inherit that same diversity and complex history but also add a more diverse history on the context of their immigration.  Just one small immigration sub-group like Taiwanese Americans will have a different socio economic class depending on whether their family history came to the US for graduate school after the Chinese Exclusion act was repealed or if they fled Taiwan in 1979 fearing war and coming as non-English speaking immigrants.

As the discussion progressed, I learned that the group which was most against data disaggregation were Chinese immigrants from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) who were extremely nationalistic and predominately wealthy.  Their motivation was supposedly based on their selfish concern over their interests being violated by affirmative action.

Data disaggregation would start to categorize Asian Americans in to smaller categories such as Khmer, Hmong, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Samoan, Hawaiian, Korean, etc. This would allow for immigrant groups who suffered more economic disadvantages to partake in the social programs designed for those who suffered these disadvantages rather than being categorized with wealthier east Asian groups.  Now why would wealthy people begrudge that?  It didn’t make sense to me.  Wealthy people from those groups don’t even partake in these programs, why would they care if others do?

Then Professor John Cheng reminded me of one more group that would get disaggregated which might offend PRC patriots.  Taiwanese Americans would be counted separately from Chinese Americans.

Ah ha!!!

As we know, the PRC is currently threatening to go to war to “recover Taiwan.”  Yet, Taiwan has a vibrant democracy voting in a female president and taking steps towards marriage equality usually unheard of in most Asian societies.  For Taiwanese Americans to be counted separately from the Chinese American demographic would affirm one more reality that the Taiwanese identity is a distinct separate identity.

This sense of Chinese nationalism may be one of the primary reasons for the resistance to data disaggregation for Asian Americans.  As we know, this kind of resistance is not reflective of reality.  As a society that supports self determination and self identity, data disaggregation of Asian Americans will let people further understand the diversity of the Asian American experience.

Let us not let pressure from another nation’s desire to conquer other territories interfere with how we in the United States execute our domestic policy.

 

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Water guns can lead to…

So Baltimore city is reaching a record high number of 159 homicides for 2017.  As a city biker, I had always thought the most dangerous thing to avoid were cars and trucks on the streets.  For 15 years, I have mapped the safest routes to bike to avoid heavy traffic.

Unfortunately, the concern of safety in Baltimore city has now forced me to add a new factor in the safety equation.  Just yesterday, in my normal route on Gough St, I cut through Perkin’s homes.  While biking there, a group of kids with water guns tried to block my path and sprayed me continuously with water guns.  Being an extremely hot time around 5PM, the water actually felt really good since I was overheating.

My instinct was to not to escalate the situation so I quickly thanked them for cooling me down.  Having not gotten the response they neither wanted or expected, they stopped shooting me with water guns.

After further reflection, thinking about the anger in the city and the terrible murder rate, I realize that being an outsider in many of these communities unfortunately makes me a target of their frustrations.  My new bike route calculation must now bike along roads that actually have more traffic, yet still has a safe route to move.

Thus is life…

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Rerouting my bike ride home…

BLAM! BLAM! ….  pow pow POW! BLAM!!!

Gunshots echo across Perkins Homes as I was about to go down Gough Street on my commute home.  Maybe a dozen kids start running away from the center of the projects.  My first instinct is to grab my phone and call 911, but my survival instincts tell me to turn my bike around.   I hear a cry out of a woman in pain and have a moment of indecision.  Should I continue down Gough St and see if I could be of some help?  Then a flash back of my previous run in with kids having guns in Baltimore city and I accept my helplessness as an Asian American outsider.

Frozen, at the corner of Broadway and Gough, I come to the conclusion to reroute up Broadway ironically down Baltimore St to avoid the danger.  As I coast down Baltimore St, the Police helicopter flies above and I hear the police siren wail…

Just another hot (feels like 106 F) evening in Baltimore.

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