天安門 (Tiananmen) roughly transliterates to Peaceful Sky Gate, or "The Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking" when English-speaking scholars want to be flowery. When I think of civil unrest I think of my parents staring bewildered at that TV on a summer day in a foreign country and not being old enough to understand why.
My parents came from Taiwan to the United States in the late 1980s, before the end of martial law. I was born months before the end of the martial law that my parents had spent their entire lives growing up under. For me, while growing up in the United States, the concept of martial law was meaningless. My parents spoke of the poverty they experienced, the strictness of the education system, the expectations of family members, not of white terrors, tribunals, or massacres. Later on, my mother would describe a concept of carefulness that would still be meaningless to me. They were not like other Taiwanese Americans living in the United States while their country of origin stayed under martial law--not when the occupying government of the Republic of China KMT on Taiwan was carrying out assassinations on American soil. They weren't radical. They weren't political prisoners or in exile. They conformed, safely, in ways that were quite adaptive, abilities they did not quite succeed in passing on to their children.
There's this yam shaped island on the other side of the Pacific Ocean over 6,000 miles away from my physical location and only 112 miles away from the country that has missiles pointed at it. Although my ancestors have lived on the beautiful island for centuries, I haven't set foot on it in nearly two decades--the longest anyone of my blood has been away. I don't know when I can visit. I'm terrified of that sense of connection fading. I feel like every time I spend time with my grandparents, I understand them less and less. I shore up my identity and my origins in other ways, by researching my DNA type from the marrow donor registry, (I am apparently a Taiwanese "hybrid"), by cooking and tasting, by observing and writing. I am simultaneously the least and most Taiwanese person in my family, maybe.
This week, the people of Taiwan held a public demonstration, which they have done often and in increasing frequency since Taiwan democratized. They protested because a young soldier died in a hazing death and the government covered it up. Over a hundred thousand people descended on the capital, peaceably. They used LED lights to project the words "injustice" and "truth" on the Presidential office. Twisting George Orwell, they erected a giant sign reading "Big Citizen is Watching You" and thousands of protesters held up a picture of a bloody eye. They co-opted the song "Do You Hear the People Sing" and rewrote it over the course of five days into an orchestral choral arrangement, in Taiwanese, a language once banned under that martial law. Peaceful assembly. </li> </li>
I think of my friends who got shot at with rubber bullets by the LAPD when they went to a rally for Trayvon Martin, or the pepper spray incident at UC Davis. I think about how recent documents show the US government's approach to the Occupy protests. This is so different. I don't know if I am idealizing Taiwan just to feel close to it, but it just seems so different. Freedom of speech. Freedom of assembly. Democracy in action...and I realize that my parents missed it all.
My parents missed the democratization of Taiwan. They have played it safe all of their lives. First they played it safe under martial law in Taiwan. Then they played it safe, because they had to, as first generation immigrants in the United States. They have not had the opportunity to experience it. My mom was excited just to be able to cast her first ballot to vote (I believe it was Clinton, 1996, and then Gore, 2000.)
I relate so much more to this protest than I do to my parents' attitudes towards playing it safe. I wish my parents and I could have been at the protest.
Maybe I'm just sentimental.