4. I am a Taiwanese who Speaks Poor Chinese

As a self-proclaimed Japanophone Taiwanese, I am proficient in Japanese.

For me, Japanese is the easiest language for the purposes of talking, listening, reading, and writing.

People sometimes ask me "You are Taiwanese, so you speak Chinese, right?"

My answer to this question is "Well, not exactly."

This, of course, does not mean that I do not speak Chinese at all.

But I do not speak it very well, either.

In other words, my Chinese is better than incomprehensible but less than fluent.

I used to feel dejected every time someone asked me "You are Taiwanese, so how come your Chinese is so bad?" but now that is a thing of the past.

I have the Japanese language. My Chinese (and Taiwanese) language is alive and thriving in my Japanese.

There are Taiwanese people like me.

There is Japanese language like mine.

Incidentally, the other day I came across a poem which evoked anxiety from the days when I felt like I lacked proficiency in both Japanese and Chinese.


The poem of a Chicana (an American woman of Mexican descent), which deeply moved a Taiwanese woman who speaks poor Chinese

This is an excerpt of the poem.

A white person gets encouragement,
for weak attempts at a second language.
"Maybe he wants to be brown
like us."
and that is good

My earnest attempts
make me look bad,

"Perhaps she wanted to be white
like THEM."
and that is bad.

I keep my flash cards hidden
a practice cassette tape
not labeled
'cause I am ashamed.
I "should know better"
they tell me
Spanish is in your blood.

Michele Serros, "Mi Problema" taken from Chicana Falsa and other stories of death, identity, and Oxnard (Laro Press, 1993)

The title of this poem is Mi Problema.

It was written by Michele Serros. In Spanish, "mi problema" means "my problem."

I came across this poem in a book, Gitā wo Daita Wataridori: Chikānoshi Raisan [A Migratory Bird with a Guitar: in Praise of Chicano Poetry] (Shichosha). The author of the book, Yoshiaki Koshikawa, has titled the chapter in which he introduces Michele Serros and her poem "Supeingo no Nigate na Chikāna [The Chicana who speaks poor Spanish]."


Left: Gitā wo Daita Wataridori: Chikānoshi Raisan (Shichosha) is an anthology of Chicano poetry.
Right: The author's previous book, Tōgarashi no Chiisana Tabi: Bōdā Bunkaron [The Short Journey of a Red Hot Pepper: Border Culture Theory] (Hakusuisha), is also very interesting.

I could not help but imagine the story behind this poem.

There is a girl living in Oxnard near Los Angeles, California.

She is a Chicana, a Mexican American.

One day, she experiences (you could say "suffers from") the disgraceful and humiliating situation, which inspires her to write this poem.

She writes it driven by great chagrin.

In the poem written in English, the language in which the author is most fluent, she mixes phrases in Spanish, the language which is supposed to be "in her blood," such as "Hable más despacio, por favor" and "mi problema."

Then, one day, "a Taiwanese woman who speaks poor Chinese" raised in a city called Tokyo, in East Asia, reads the poem translated into a language called Japanese, and cannot suppress her tears thinking "I have been through the same thing."

Were I Japanese, I am sure my level of Chinese language proficiency would have been praised, but because I am Taiwanese, I am disrespected instead. Conversely, although I speak Japanese so well, I am told that I am almost Japanese but I am never truly accepted as Japanese.

Mi Problema was my problem, too.

To be asked why my Chinese is so bad despite the fact that I am Taiwanese used to make me almost as unbearably sad as to be praised that my Japanese is so good despite the fact that I am not Japanese.

However, I do not by any means regret the sadness that this poem evoked because I know that it is the starting point of my ambition to quest for my own Japanese and motivates me to continue writing.

Rather, I welcome the encounter with the poem by Michele Serros as it amplified these feelings.

Perhaps, if I continue writing, someday someone will stumble across my Japanese prose and will think "The same thing happened to me, too."

Just imagining this transforms the sadness into hope.

japanophone01.jpg Wen Yuju
Author Wen Yuju was born in 1980 in Taipei. She won the Subaru Prize for Literature with her work Kokyokoraika in 2009, and published Raifuku no Ie (Shueisha) in 2011. In 2013, she appeared in Homeland in the Borderland, a documentary film directed by Keiko Okawa, which follows author Hideo Levy as he returns to Taichung, Taiwan, for the first time in 52 years. In 2014, she formed the duo "ponto" with musician Keitaney-Love Kojima, and launched collaborative performances under the title "mapo de ponto--Kotoba to Oto no Ofukushokan [Correspondence of Words and Sound]," featuring Wen's reading and Kojima's music. Her most recent work is Taiwan umare Nihongo sodachi (Hakusuisha), a collection of essays born from her experience as a Taiwanese raised in Japan. In February 2016, her short story Hishatai no Kofuku was published in Granta Japan with Waseda Bungaku 03 (Hayakawa Publishing).

Follow Wen Yuju on Twitter https://twitter.com/wenyuju

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