Spotlight Archive

[UPDATED] Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement

[UPDATED] Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement

As the events of the Sunflower Student Movement unfold in Taiwan, we’ve compiled what we hope to be a comprehensive resource of up-to-date articles, analysis, live feeds, social media, and photos and footage of the protests. We know there are numerous other sources out there, so feel free to send us whatever you may find. Please continue checking back as the events of the movement unfold and as this list is continuously updated!

LAST UPDATED: 4/9/2014 11:18AM PST





  • BLOGS, OPINIONS, AND ANALYSIS (organized in alphabetical order by publication)
    • “Protests In Taiwan: A Long-Term Threat To Foreign Trade?”, Forbes
    • “How new media allowed young Taiwanese protesters to reach the world faster”, Foreign Policy
    • “Taiwan, between democracy and China, and in a hard place”, Fortune Magazine
    • Analysis of state coercive power and non-violent protest, Frozen Garlic
  • NEWS ARTICLES (organized in alphabetical order by publication)
    • “Clashes as Taiwan students storm government HQ”, BBC News
    • “Mass protest held in Taiwan over against China trade deal”, BBC News
    • “Taiwan Students Occupy Legislature Over China Pact”, Bloomberg News
    • “Taiwan Protest Draws More than 100,000 Against China Trade Deal”, Bloomberg News
    • “Taiwan’s Ma Offers to Meet Student Leaders as Dispute Continues”, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
    • “For Taiwan’s Embattled President, Awkward Similarities”, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
    • “Taiwan Legislature occupiers’ ultimatum passes without response from government”, CNN
    • “Taiwan police clash with students in protests over trade deal”, CNN
    • “Manning the trade barriers”, The Economist
    • “On the antlers of a dilemma”, The Economist
    • “Taiwan stands behind use of force against protesters”, New York Times
    • “Large Crowds Fill Taipei Streets in Protest Over China Trade Bill”, New York Times
    • “Criticism, and Rare Words of Support, as China Watches Taiwan Protests”, New York Times
    • “Could Taiwan be the next Crimea?” Slate
    • “Hong Kong students join Taiwan sit-in”, South China Morning Post
    • “US committee urges support for Taiwan”, Taipei Times
    • “Lee Teng-hui supports students, constitutional conference”, Taiwan News
    • “The ‘Battle of Taipei’ Shows Just How Wary of China Young Taiwanese Are”, TIME
    • “Thousands in Taiwan protest China trade deal”, USA Today
    • “Taiwan’s ‘Sunflower Revolution’ Assaulted by Riot Police”, Vice News
    • “Taiwan Protesters Occupy Legislature Over China Trade Pact”, Voice of America
    • “Students Occupy Taiwan’s Legislature to Protest China Pact”, Photos, Wall Street Journal
    • “Taiwan Police Evict Protesters From Cabinet Building”, Wall Street Journal
    • “Taiwan Student Protesters Urge Island-Wide Strike”, Wall Street Journal
    • “Young Protesters Shaking Up Taiwan’s China Policy”, Wall Street Journal
    • “China trade pact foes occupy Taiwanese legislature”, Washington  Post
    • “TKACIK: Taiwan Struggles in China’s Trade Grip”, Washington Times
    • 3/29 Full text of President Ma’s press conference in response to the students’ demands


Building Bridges: An Interview with Organizers of the Taiwan-America Student Conference

Building Bridges: An Interview with Organizers of the Taiwan-America Student Conference’s Ho Chie Tsai takes a moment to chat with some of the organizers behind a new student-oriented conference that aims to build bridges across the Pacific by bringing together young spirited leaders from the U.S. and Taiwan. Their vision is broad and meaningful: By connecting ambitious young leaders with established leaders in Taiwan, they plan to explore various contemporary issues relevant to the Taiwanese people and take steps to producing solutions that make an impact.

Read on as Ho Chie Tsai delves into the thoughts and plans of U.S.-based co-founders Alice (Pin-Pin) Liao & Sharon Lu and Executive Committee Organizer Frances Chan.

Ho Chie: Hello Frances, Alice, and Sharon! It’s a pleasure to chat with you about this wonderful project you and your team are working on. Tell me a little bit about what the Taiwan-America Student Conference is and what inspired this idea.

Alice: Hmmm… It’s hard to say just “a little bit” on the Taiwan-America Student Conference, since there are so many parts to it… Top university students from both countries will be collaborating to solve global issues – all the while attending professional networking events, academic forums, and cultural excursions. They’ll also meet established leaders, like the former ambassador to Taiwan and the founder of Teach for Taiwan. And all that jam-packed into two weeks traveling around Taiwan! I don’t think anyone can fully understand its impact until actually attending it… I mean, when I attended the 65th Japan-America Student Conference (JASC) in Japan, I had no idea I was going to go from being a shy student to a confident leader. I think it really had to do with meeting 71 other delegates that not only didn’t judge me by my past, but instead believed in me as a person who was capable to make change in the future. Having been inspired at JASC, I really wanted to give others the same opportunity!

Frances: So when I was in Japan last summer, I realized that there were SO many ways for an American to get to Japan. Many people in my school go there to study Japanese, to intern in sectors from banking to non-profit, and to lead summer camps to inspire high school students… all while meeting Japanese people and learning to love the culture. In sharp contrast, I could not think of a single way to get to Taiwan. That’s when I heard about JASC, which was really the spark to a lot of cool projects in Japan, such as “H-Lab,” a summer program led by Harvard students to get Japanese high school students to think outside the box! Also, just as people like Henry Kissinger attended JASC, I really want the future leaders of the U.S. to have Taiwan near and dear to their heart.

Sharon: Having split my life between two homelands, Taiwan and the U.S., I have deep ties to both. Through my interactions with students from both sides, I have noticed an alarming lack of interaction and understanding between them. In addition, I have always believed that Taiwan deserves more international recognition than it currently receives. Echoing what Alice said, it was not until my experience at JASC, however, that a more concrete solution to these issues gradually emerged in my mind–TASC. JASC inspired me in making me realize and believe in the power and potential we have as students.

H: I’m impressed that your vision for the conference includes tackling a broad array of issues relevant to the young people of Taiwan. How did you guys settle on these topics?

A: Once we had our 12 member team, we made a long list of issues we wanted to talk about. We debated amongst ourselves and settled on five topics that we felt were most immediately relevant to both countries: U.S.-China-Taiwan relations, education reform, government responsibility, discrimination against minorities, and energy sustainability. We want delegates to have the chance to discuss issues that have made the headlines recently, including LGBT rights, island disputes, and education–just to list a few subtopics within our broad Roundtables.

H: So, Alice and Sharon, you both met at the Japan-America Student Conference. How did you build out your team across the U.S. and your international counterparts in Taiwan?

A: I’d really have to credit Sharon and her dad with this one. Aside from Shirley Cheng and Frances Chan, the rest of the team came through Sharon. Ha, I get this huge surge of pride when I talk about TASC Executive Committee members. None of this would be possible without them!

S: I approached my friends and acquaintances in both Taiwan and the U.S, who shared the same vision and had the capabilities to organize TASC. My dad, a professor at National Tsing Hua University, helped us recruit Taiwanese students. He recommended students he knew and personally reached out to his network in the education sector to recruit students from different parts of Taiwan. Furthermore, some students who could not commit to being a part of our team themselves connected us with other students whom they thought would be good candidates. The most committed students then had interviews with Alice. Soon enough, we had a dedicated & talented team.

H: That’s so great! You also have an impressive set of speakers who will be presenting at your inaugural conference. How did you connect with them all?

A: Our Taiwanese Executive Committee (TEC) are very proactive in reaching out to potential speakers and utilizing their networks. Dr. Stanton, who is the former Director at American Institute in Taiwan, is actually now the Director for Center of Asia Policy in National Tsing Hua University. He also happens to be one of our TEC’s, Amanda Lin’s mentor, and an incredibly nice person. All of our speakers, including Teach for Taiwan founder Anting Liu, are inspirational people who aim to empower the younger generation through sharing their own stories of leadership and service to society.

H: In your publicity, you acknowledge the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act. A lot of young people don’t fully understand what it entails. What does that relationship between America and Taiwan mean to you personally?

F: The Taiwan Relations Act represents to me everything that the U.S. has done to keep Taiwan free. Cynics might say that the U.S. mainly supports Taiwan for strategic reasons, but there really is more to the relationship than just counterbalancing China. When I talk to other Americans about how Taiwan is a free country with a beautiful culture, but that it’s constantly bullied into isolation by the Chinese government, they really do sympathize. The reason why even very influential people like U.S. congressmen often support bills to help Taiwan is because they make so many decisions with their minds every day; when we talk to them about Taiwan, we give them a chance to make a decision with their heart.

H: Agreed. I do think it’s wonderful that you all have such a heart for the issues that are relevant to Taiwan and the U.S. I’m also curious about your stories, too. Tell me about your personal identities as Taiwanese Americans. Where did you grow up and what are the events and ideas that have shaped you the most?

A: I was born in Taiwan, moved to California when I was four for elementary education, moved back to Taiwan for middle school, and then back to California for high school, then finally to the East Coast for college. I grew up never being American enough and never being Taiwanese enough. In Taiwan, my fashion style, speaking accent, and dark skin make me automatically American. In California, being Taiwanese American was more common but because I attended middle school in Taiwan, I was “extra Taiwanese”. I didn’t follow mainstream music, tv shows, and American pop culture. At Villanova University, oh boy, I’m not even American. I once even had a teacher that insisted on calling me an international student. I think all the moving and having to find my identity niche each time really got me to understand the importance of accepting myself and others as an individual.

F: I came to identify as Taiwanese American, because certain individuals would always challenge me when I said I was Taiwanese–“Come on, don’t be stuck up and think you’re different- you’re Chinese,” or “Taiwan’s a part of China, so you’re Chinese.” Now, if a Chinese person wants to identify as Chinese, people let them do that. Why can’t people just accept that I am Taiwanese? Is being Taiwanese somehow inferior or improper? No, and I thank my parents and my friends at TAFPC, a Taiwanese-American church at home in Jersey, for teaching me to hold my head high when I tell people that I am Taiwanese American.

S: I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Taiwan until moving back to the U.S. in middle school. When I first moved back to the U.S., I found myself isolated in a strange environment, facing not only language and cultural barrier but also great confusion with regard to my identity. As I assimilated into the American culture, I struggled to maintain my Taiwanese roots. People from the U.S., then gradually people from Taiwan as well, perceived me as a foreigner. I seemed stuck in between an irreconcilable dichotomy, belonging nowhere. I gradually realized, however, that I am just Sharon Lu with a bi-cultural background which has given me two homes and the strength of being able to connect them with my native proficiency in Chinese and English, cultural sensitivity and passion for both.

H: Those are such interesting personal stories. I feel like we could do an interview on just the different perspectives and issues on identity alone, but we’ll save that for another day. A simpler question: What are your favorite Taiwanese foods?

A: Everything you see in night markets. All the night markets. Ok maybe except the cockroaches I tried when I vacationed in Tainan with some of the TASC EC’s.

F: Taiwanese sausages! I know they’re bad for you, but they’re just so juicy and delicious! And beef noodle soup. In fact, I’ve even written a 20-page history paper on it and how it’s a microcosm of modern Taiwanese culture and identity!

S: This is a difficult question! It is difficult not only because I find most Taiwanese foods delicious but also because certain foods are associated with precious memories. My brother and I basically grew up on the NTHU campus, and we would always go to this juice store in one of the cafeterias to get fresh guava juice which is especially delicious on a hot summer day. I also love dried mushroom chicken soup (香菇雞湯) which my grandma often cooked to warm us up in the winter. I also love Taiwanese rice balls, bubble tea, fried chicken chops (香雞排), and so on from the morning and night markets.

H: They all sound so delicious! You’re making me hungry. Anyways, I’m curious… What are you most excited about for this conference?

A: Meeting 41 other amazing individuals. Showing American friends my Taiwanese culture, and showing my Taiwanese friends my American sass. I’m excited to just have fun together.

F: I’m excited to learn about Taiwan in depth. While I’ve learned a lot about Taiwanese history and culture in my spare time and have been to a lot of touristy places, TASC will be my first opportunity to travel around Taiwan to learn about actual issues and talk to local leaders. I am also really excited to meet all the students, especially the Taiwanese students, since I rarely have a chance to meet students from Taiwan!

S: I’m excited to see TASC become a spark for great conversations and actions regarding international and societal issues as well as a foundation for individuals and friendships to grow from for many, many years to come.

H: How can people find out more or register for this conference?

F: Visit our website,! Give us a holler via our Contact page! There’s a brief application form due by March 16, but if you submit it by our early bird deadline of February 23, your application fee is waived. We promise to get back within a week of either deadline on acceptance status. There are also scholarships for students concerned about the cost of attending the conference.

H: Thank you so much for your time today. On behalf of, our staff wishes you the best on this inaugural year!



Kathy Cheng and Thankful Registry: Giving with Heart

Kathy Cheng and Thankful Registry: Giving with Heart’s Managing Editor, Anna Wu, speaks with Thankful founder Kathy Cheng to find out more about her innovative start-up that is helping to personalize the gift-giving traditions around weddings, birthdays, and other events. Anna has also found success as a professional wedding photographer, so both she and Kathy have much in common when it comes to celebrating life’s special moments. Read on to find out more behind the motivation and success of Thankful.

Anna: Thank you for talking with us at! Could you tell us a little about yourself or your background?

Kathy: Hi there! First of all, I should admit I’m actually Taiwanese-Australian. I was born in Taipei and grew up in Sydney. I didn’t leave until after college when I started working as a copywriter at design consultancies. (Like Peggy Olson in Mad Men.) My first job was in Taipei, then I moved to an agency in Chicago but I couldn’t handle the crazy winters, so ended up in New York at an innovation consultancy called Smart Design. Since September this year I’ve been full-time on but I have to admit that my proudest achievement from these past few years in New York is that I’ve yet to sign an apartment lease!

A: What is Thankful?

K: Thankful is an online gift registry service that I’m hoping will change the way people think about wedding registries and gift registries altogether. The site launched in March 2013 and we have customers around the world thanks to some nice press in TechCrunch and Fast Company.

A: What inspired you to create Thankful?

K: It started when I was a bridesmaid for a close friend’s wedding. I arrived late to their registry and ended up buying a $200 blender. Six months later, I found out the blender was still in their storage locker! It made me wonder why wedding registries are ubiquitous and the social rules surrounding it all, so I started doing some research. I learned it’s a $10 billion industry that’s pretty much dominated by big-box retailers like Macy’s, Crate & Barrel and Bed, Bath & Beyond. I saw an opportunity to build something my friends in the design field would choose, and made the decision to trademark the name “Thankful” in 2010. It’s actually been a long road now that I think about it.

A: What sets Thankful apart from other wedding registry sites?

K: I think it comes down to two things: what we stand for, and how it works. In terms of what we stand for, the name “Thankful” plays a huge part in how I make decisions about everything from customer service to how we talk about ourselves. And in terms of how it works, we’re a completely open platform that lets people add just about anything — traditional gifts, experiences like language classes, charity contributions, honeymoon gifts and gift cards. Keeping things simple and flexible is really important.

A: What are the biggest challenges or surprises you’ve encountered since pursuing your own startup?

K: Wow, great question. I think the biggest surprise is just how much I can get done from my studio apartment with an Internet connection! It’s kind of amazing. All of the resources are out there for the taking, you just have to find it and go. Another surprise is the feeling of pride that comes from building something from scratch and hearing great feedback from customers — especially customers from overseas. It’s sappy but it’s true. It what keeps me going when things feel hard.

A: Has your Taiwanese heritage played a role in your journey so far?

K: I’d say yes and no. Weddings in Taiwan are totally different from weddings in the States, so the category isn’t something that translates. On the other hand, cash gifts are really common in Asia so I totally understand the practical side of gift-giving. As much as gifts are about generosity and important relationships, they’re also about being pragmatic and helpful. That kind of mentality plays a huge role in our approach.

A: If we were to ask your parents, what would they say about Thankful?

K: Neither of my parents have ever bought a wedding gift off a wedding registry! It’s a totally alien concept to them. But my dad is a business owner so he gives me useful advice on the business side of things.

A: What are your hopes for Thankful or your vision for your next projects beyond Thankful?

K: I think the opportunity is there to build a wedding brand for creative and tech-savvy people. But I also want to see Thankful grow beyond the wedding category and become a broader lifestyle brand. For starters, this Thanksgiving we announced our expansion into registries for other big life events like baby showers, birthdays, graduations, housewarmings and bar/bat mitzvahs. There are already a handful of baby registries on the site (they are so cute.) A friend of mine who’s an illustrator made this awesome video for me:

A: Final question, what is your favorite Taiwanese food?

K: Hands-down my favorite meal when I go back to Taipei is minced pork noodles made by my mom. I eat it almost every day for lunch. Otherwise, I can’t resist fresh pork floss. It’s such a childhood favorite of mine I bought the domain name The problem is I’m not sure what I’ll do with it yet, so if anyone happens to make delicious pork floss, please get in touch. We can partner up and go on Shark Tank!

Michelle Wu – On Campaigning, Boston, and Pig Ears

Michelle Wu – On Campaigning, Boston, and Pig Ears

Michelle Wu is one of the newly elected at-large councilors for Boston City Council, and the first Asian American female to hold the position. About a year ago, I received a random Facebook invite to one of her first campaign events, where I was inspired by her story. On an especially windy day in a cozy South End Starbucks, I had the privilege of hearing more about her journey and plans for a better Boston.

Congrats on your victory!

Thanks! I am very humbled to have been elected.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up as, in many ways, a very stereotypical Asian American girl – very quiet and respectful – never thinking about politics or elected office. I was born in Chicago, my parents had just immigrated from Taiwan (Taipei) for my dad’s education. I did everything “right”– played piano, violin, studied hard and got a scholarship to go to Harvard. After graduation, I was working in consulting making a great salary. Then, my mom got sick, and she and my dad divorced, so there was a lot of family stuff going on. I went to Chicago to start parenting my two little sisters, and that changed everything. I became the primary caretaker for the family and also opened a tea shop. In the process of being in charge of my sisters’ education and a small business, I saw that city government had a huge impact on people’s lives and in many ways, can be a barrier to a family trying to support itself and the community. I then had the chance to come back to Boston for Harvard Law School, brought my family with me, and after some experiences working in city hall and on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, decided to run for city council myself.

What was it like taking care of your two sisters so soon after graduating college?

When my mom got sick, it was very uncertain for a number of years, not knowing if our family was going to keep going or fall apart. It’s hard at 22 when you’re raising a 10-year old, especially when the law assumes that you are of a certain, mainstream background. For example, when I went to register my sisters for school in Boston, they said if my parents are alive and live in state, they have to be there to register. They didn’t care that I had a notarized letter that my mother was mentally ill, or that this was really inconvenient for us, that was it. So I had to get court guardianship papers just to sort of fit into the box of being a traditional family. Still to this day, as a 28-year old raising at 16-year old, it’s hard. I think you have to be very sure where your own values are when you’re trying to pass them to a young person. But I do the best I can, and I reach out to a lot of mentors for support.

What were some experiences with city government that inspired you to get involved?

My family and I put in a lot of time and energy into designing our tea house in Chicago. We visited other tea cafes, sampled loose leaf teas from around the world, and got it down to the detail of the texture of the paper that our menus would be printed on. By the time we were ready to go, we just needed to get a permit from city government, which I thought would take a month and a half. We had a sign in the window that said “Coming Soon: Loose Leaf Tea Loft, August,” but then it was one delay after another. I had to go down to city hall multiple times and talk to our local city councilors. So we kept changing the sign every month until finally we just took it down. We didn’t open until 3 months later and it was a lot of rent we had to pay while we were waiting. Getting caught up in the permission process – that’s the last thing you want to do as a business owner. And as a law student, I had worked for city hall in Boston. I just loved city government – you can make a big difference. My project was to make it easier for restaurant owners to open up their businesses, and I brought food trucks to the city. But I still never thought about myself as being able to run: to put yourself out there publicly, to be speaking nonstop, and to ask people for money, votes, and volunteer hours.

So then how’d you make the jump to running?

I had Elizabeth Warren as my professor my first semester of law school and I was really struck by her. She was a tough professor, but very smart and very committed to her students. I was in the middle of my third year of law school when she ran for Senate and I started working full-time on the campaign (and missed a lot of class). It was this experience that really got me into the field. I started as one of the first organizers in Boston and eventually became a constituency director. It was my job to include everyone in the campaign. I saw that when I took the time to proactively go to communities and explain why it was important to get involved and gave them voice, people turned out to vote and volunteer. It was inspiring to see that you could run a campaign based on ideas and values, and that if you just work hard at reaching out and including everyone, you can be successful.

Has your Taiwanese American heritage played a role in your story?

My family moved a couple of times around the Midwest, and ended up in a suburb of Chicago. In my school, there were I think about ten non-Caucasian students. So early on, I felt this divide between my home and school life. At home, my dad was very strict about us only speaking Mandarin, and we ate dinner with chopsticks every single night. At school, I learned which foods I could or couldn’t bring because people would make fun of me. For example, I love pig ear but my friends would say “Pig ears are what we give my dogs to eat.” So I felt that I was living between both worlds and figured out a way to be comfortable in both. You hang out with your friends at school a certain way and at home, it feels different but it’s still natural, just a different part of yourself. It was this experience of figuring out how to be included that really gave me this sense of trying to reach out and include people. I think my Asian American culture influenced a lot of my life decisions too. People have always asked me, “How did you decide to start parenting your sisters?” I don’t even think that was a decision made; it was just very natural. My mom got sick and my dad wasn’t around, so I was going to take care of my family because that’s how I was raised. That’s something that’s also very natural to a lot of Asian Americans whom I speak to about my experience.

How have pieces of your heritage served as an advantage?

The importance of family I was raised with as a Taiwanese American is something that resonates with a lot of other cultures too. Whether I was speaking Spanish with a Latino family, or in South Boston with an Irish American family, that was the piece that really got to with people. I also really appreciate everything that my family has gone through: my grandparents moved from the mainland to Taiwan in 1949, my parents were born and raised in Taipei, and ended up coming to Chicago. There’s a very strong appreciation for what other people had to give up for me to be able to have what I have here. That’s something that drives me to want to do good. Also, Asian Americans are often in this very funny gray zone. There’s a fairly strong Black and Latino coalition; Asian Americans are sometimes included in that and sometimes not. But then they’re not quite included with Caucasians, so it’s interesting because Asian Americans can float back and forth, and define what it means to be in the communities they take part in.

What is your vision for Boston?

My campaign was about pipelines to opportunity and connecting people to resources that Boston already has. There are barriers to access, especially when it comes to culture and language. One area of focus is small business: simplifying the permiting and regulatory system so that neighborhood-level entrepreneurs from different backgrounds – especially immigrant families – have an easier time opening up their business. Another is education to employment – making sure all of our children have access to colleges and summer internships and mentorship opportunities. And I really want to take advantage of data and technology to give people access to information and government. Mental health is another area I’d like to push as well.

As a student in public health, I know that mental health is a big issue. Why is this an area of interest for you?

This is something my family has been dealing with for a while now. It’s very clear that when you have one family member struggling with mental illness, it’s an issue that everyone struggles with. Supporting that person means not just having access to help, but having emotional and cultural support. It made a world of difference when my mom was able to get follow-up care from the health center in Chinatown because she saw a doctor who spoke Mandarin and understood the cultural component of care. For example, my mom is very uncomfortable in any sort of doctor setting when there’s a male attendant. It’s important having that direct cultural connection, or someone from that cultural background to be there at the table.

What are your ideas for improving mental health through city policies?

Younger and younger children are dealing with mental illness, whether it’s themselves or a family member. This is leading to public safety issues, gang involvement, and youth violence. Our schools are a primary place where we catch all of our kids for a period of time, but there aren’t enough resources for school psychiatrists, crisis counselors and guidance counselors. Usually, you get access to them only when something bad happens to you, when there’s an incident or a red flag, but there should be resources from the beginning. I want to see every family, as part of their orientation process, be introduced to their point of contact for mental health issues in schools.

Do you have a favorite quote or words to live by?

That’s a hard one. But I think a lot about Confucius’ Stages of Life and Colin Powell’s Rules of Leadership. The idea for me is that you’re always changing and progressing. And there are some things that I won’t understand and parts I won’t know until later.

Last but definitely not least: what’s your favorite Taiwanese food?

Oh my goodness! We make it a family tradition to go to Jojo Taipei over the weekend for brunch. We always order the same thing there and the waitresses can recognize us by the order. Everybody gets xian dou jiang (salty soy milk), and I get the spicy pig ear. I also enjoy a good fan tuan (rice roll)!

Keep up with Michelle:
Twitter: @wutrain

Taiwan is My Home: Stories of the Black and Latino Diaspora

Taiwan is My Home: Stories of the Black and Latino Diaspora

Daniel D. Zarazua has spent his life navigating the ways globalization and international migration have taken root in the daily experiences of life in Taiwan. As a mixed-race 1.5 generation Taiwanese American who has returned to Taiwan several times, he has explored the hip-hop scene, capoeira community, Latino restaurants, and made a number of friendships within Taiwan’s Black and Latino communities. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Daniel a couple of times during Taiwanese American conferences and have been fascinated by stories of his experiences through the lens of his multi-racial identity. Now, as he seeks support to publish a book and companion documentary photo book that highlights Taiwan’s growing Black and Latino communities in order to explore what it means to be Taiwanese and multiracial in the 21st century, I thought it would be interesting to hear about some of his personal experiences and motivation behind this project entitled Taiwan is My Home: Stories of the Black and Latino Diaspora.

H: Hi Daniel! Great to connect with you again! Out of curiosity, how do you identify yourself?

D: That’s a complicated question, but for the sake of brevity I’ll say Taiwanese and Chicano!

H: Tell me, Daniel, how did the seeds of this project start?

D: It’s been a lifelong process. Since the age of three my family and I moved around due to my father’s job, including Italy and different parts of the U.S., I quickly learned that identity is fluid and impacted by our circumstances, including assumptions people make based off what we look like, our names, or even our taste in music. Despite returning to Taiwan often I felt myself losing a connection with the island as so much of my worldview was shaped by Latinos and African Americans, who I didn’t often encounter in Taiwan. However, about six years ago I came across a Mexican-owned restaurant and a Guyanese/Jamaican owned restaurant in Taipei. I met the owners of both, began developing more relationships and was opened up to a whole other side of Taiwan! I’ve returned four times since then and in January I will return for at least six months to gather more material.

H: What do you hope to accomplish with Taiwan is My Home?

D: Three things immediately come to mind. 1. To help share the stories of some of the many Black and Latino immigrants who’ve moved to Taiwan, including a few who’ve lived there for decades. Most Taiwanese do not often have the opportunity to get beyond superficial interactions and I’ve seen the power these stories and images have had to open up dialogue. 2. To contribute to the the discussion of what it means to be Taiwanese and Taiwanese American. Throughout history cultures and communities have always changed. It will be interesting to see how Taiwan tries to position itself in the global community. How it deals with its growing diversity is part of that positioning. 3. I’d like for people in general, but particularly Black and Latino folks, to see that Taiwan has a place for them. I’m not romanticizing it, but particularly because I work as a high school educator I want young people to see possibilities! There is so much I love about Taiwan and I want to share that. I want to create a resource that I wish I had growing up.

H: Tell me more about your parents? How did they meet, and what kind of struggles or challenges did they face as an interracial couple in Taiwan?

D: My father, who is originally from Michigan, was in the United States Air Force. He was stationed in Taichung and met my mother there. From my understanding, any issues weren’t simply about race, but also cultural and marrying an American and leaving the country. Was he going to take care of her or abandon her? Most of their time together has been in the U.S. so I’m more familiar with time period as I was a child when we left Taiwan. The thing is, the way interracial couples are treated depends on so many factors including what races the couples are, if the spouses are able to communicate with their in-laws, and where they live in Taiwan. On one hand, people in relationships have to deal with each other as individuals, yet it’s naive to say that coming from different races or cultures doesn’t matter. I dig a little deeper into these issues in the book.

H: What were your experiences like growing up? What made the most impact in influencing your personal identity?

D: Due to our moves, even as a child I had to learn how to navigate different situations constantly, often times trying to make sense of contradictory information and customs. It heightened my sense of empathy and ability to look at multiple perspectives. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is the need to develop a strong sense of self. That doesn’t mean that we can’t evolve and adapt, but without that foundation it’s too easy for us to be lead astray.

H: How have you embraced your Taiwanese side?

D: There was a period in college when I actively sought out a Taiwanese American community to be a part of, but it didn’t really work, which was interesting as I used to go back to Taiwan often with my family and I even did “Love Boat”. Ironically, I have more Taiwanese friends than Taiwanese American, even though I was essentially raised in the States! I realized that I didn’t need to drape myself in a flag to be Taiwanese. It’s just who I am. From my morals, to my views on politics, to the foods I eat, Taiwan is in me. I’m always reading books about Taiwan and try to keep up with the news. In more tangible ways I have tried to contribute to Taiwanese culture including DJing there a few times, documenting a number of events through photography and writing, and promoting Taiwan back in the States. This book project combines all of these elements.

H: What do you do now?

D: I’ve been working in education for the past 15 years, primarily as a high school teacher and vice principal at Unity High School in Oakland, CA. Recently I helped start a publishing company called Pochino Press that focuses on works exploring the intersection of cultures and communities.

H: When we talk about Taiwanese or Taiwanese American communities, we often don’t think of the mixed race experiences. But, as in any multicultural and open society, these changes are taking place in Taiwan. Even here in the States, as we move into the 3rd generation, these stories are becoming more common. What are some of your thoughts about this? And what kind of insight can you give on these growing communities, especially the ones in Taiwan?

D: Growing up around military families, it was natural for us. I grew up knowing other multiracial families and even non-Taiwanese who were born on the island or spent significant parts of their childhood there and culturally considered themselves part Taiwanese. Unfortunately, in general I didn’t find the larger Taiwanese or Taiwanese American community too welcoming, particularly if that mixture didn’t include White. I remember getting into some serious arguments with Taiwanese Americans over these issues when I was younger, particularly around stereotypes of Black and Latino communities. This isn’t to say that there weren’t individuals who aren’t incredibly warm-hearted and giving but it’ll be interesting to see how Taiwan adapts at a societal and institutional level, including dealing with immigrants from any country. Will it be a model for progressivism and social justice or stuck in outdated models based on fear and isolationism? Will the broader Taiwanese American community embrace a culture of diverse experiences or a mythical homogeneous one? I’m optimistic as I’ve found many people on both sides of the Pacific want to have these discussions and things have definitely improved over the years.

H: Well, I think it’s quite admirable that you’re tackling this subject. I know you want to save some of your best stuff for the book and photo documentary, but can you tell me about one of the more memorable connections you’ve made or people that have left an impression on you?

D: I’ve met so many incredible people, including local Taiwanese, that I can’t pick just one. However, the following experience is telling. A few years ago, when I first met up the Taipei-based Pan African music group, we met at a cafe and it was myself, my friend Mike, who’s Taiwanese and white Australian, and three Black members of the group. When we entered the cafe, people looked up, but nobody stared and people just went back to whatever they were doing. Our motley crew was nothing special! To see that in some parts of Taiwan they’re so used to seeing Black people as part of the community that it’s ordinary was shocking to me. Again, I’m not downplaying some of the real issues, but it shows that in some ways Taiwan is adapting. But isn’t that the entire history of the island?

H: True, indeed. Speaking of cafes, it makes me think of food. So, what’s your favorite Taiwanese food?

D: I have to go with beef noodle soup!

H: Can’t go wrong with a good bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup! So, Daniel, what can people do to help you complete this project?

D: Right now, backing us on Kickstarter is our focus as the deadline is nearing. Every little bit helps! It’s truly been touching to see who’s contributed so far and receiving e-mails from people who want to see these stories told! I’m always open to ideas and suggestions so I would love to hear from people.

H: Thanks so much for your time, Daniel. I’m looking forward to seeing the beautiful pictures and stories in print. Our staff at are behind you all the way on this important project. Good luck to you!

D: Thank you so much for this opportunity and promoting Taiwanese American voices!

H: Likewise!


Going Where No Taiwanese American Has Gone Before: Stephanie Chang Representing Detroit

Going Where No Taiwanese American Has Gone Before: Stephanie Chang Representing Detroit

I met with my friend, Stephanie Chang, at our alma mater in Ann Arbor, Michigan for an interview over ramen and pork buns. We talked about her decision to run for Michigan State Representative next year, what it is like being Taiwanese American in the city of Detroit, and her journey as an Asian American woman in public service.

A: Hi, Steph! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

S: I’m Stephanie Chang. I grew up in Canton, Michigan. I came here to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan. While I was in high school and college I learned to be proud of my Asian American and Taiwanese American identities. I started getting involved with student organizing to address issues affecting Asian Americans, as well as all students of color. After I graduated in 2005, I moved to Detroit. Since then, I’ve been working on a number of civil rights issues including education, affirmative action, and criminal justice reform. I helped start an Asian American civic engagement group in Michigan to register more Asian Americans to vote, get them out to the polls, and advocate on issues like immigration reform and voting rights.

A: So you were already involved with community organizing and local politics. Was this a natural progression to decide to run for state rep?

S: Well, it didn’t cross my mind since I am still finishing my graduate degree for public policy here at Michigan. Earlier this year, my current state rep,Rashida Tlaib (D-6), who is one of my mentors, asked me to run. I had to think about it and get advice from friends and mentors over a good six months, and then I decided to go for it. I think it’s a great opportunity to use my organizing skills and apply them in public office.

A: There has been a lot of negative news about Detroit in recent years, with the auto industry, Kwame, a zombie theme park proposal, and the bankruptcy. [Sigh.] Despite this, there are obviously still people and stories of beautification there. Tell us about the community where you live and something beautiful about it!

S: I live in Detroit. My district is House District 6. It is very long, composed of many diverse neighborhoods with different challenges. It starts from the east side of Detroit along the [Detroit] river in an area called Indian Village, through downtown, through southwest Detroit including Mexicantown. It also includes two “down river” communities: River Rouge and Ecorse. It’s predominantly African American, with some Latinos, some Caucasians, and some “other” [points to self]. Since campaigning I have been learning so much about the cultural richness of the district and city. It represents such a wide spectrum of socioeconomic class and backgrounds, and people are doing amazing things to address issues on their block, like starting community block patrols and community gardens, or boarding up houses together. It’s easy to love my neighborhood and to love this district.

A: Everyone should move to Detroit!

S: You too!

A: Hehe. It’s great to see communities with multiple backgrounds living together. What are some challenges you face as a Taiwanese American there, and especially in this particular career?

Taiwanese American women with Activist Grace Lee Boggs

S: In my district there aren’t many Asian Americans, let alone Taiwanese Americans. This year I went door-to-door in my role as community engagement coordinator at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School to meet people and learn about their history and what they want to see in a new school. Most of the time, I am the first Asian American to ever knock on someone’s door. This can create interesting dynamics. If I were elected, I would be the first Asian American woman in the Michigan state legislature. Since I didn’t grow up in the district, in order to represent it well, I will have to continue asking a lot of questions and listen a lot. I will be doing a lot of listening!

A: I hear ya! Besides embracing different people and cultures, what are some other Taiwanese values that have helped you so far?

S: First, hard work. I think I have a strong work ethic.

A: I think you do too! Maybe abnormally strong.

S: I am passionate about social justice issues, especially for education and for families – those are other values. I really believe in making a quality public education system. I helped to start an elementary school in the east side of Detroit and have seen so many challenges in starting up and sustaining quality schools. I want to continue working towards ensuring excellent education that is accessible to all families.

A: How has your family, or your parents, responded to your decision to run for office?

S: My parents have been really supportive. I think they were surprised when I first decided to do it. They have been supportive financially and have been introducing me to their friends and telling them that I’m running. It’s been amazing that a lot of the Asian American and Taiwanese American community is proud to hear that I’m running.

A: That’s wonderful to hear. In addition to improving education, what do you hope for your community?

S: Public safety. All neighborhoods should be safe. I’ve been thinking and exploring a lot of ideas on public safety, in conjunction with ways to make our criminal justice system more fair. Regardless of background and money, everyone deserves an equal playing field in terms of the justice system. Also, I hope to see a restored safety net: making sure that everyone has access to a basic level of resources.

A: Sounds like you must have lots of free time. Riiight. But, on the side, you also maintain a wedding blog?

S: Yes! It’s a blog highlighting socially conscious weddings in Detroit, called Love In the D.

A: Cool. Before we go, one final question, what is your favorite Taiwanese food?

S: My favorite Taiwanese food is bubble tea. My husband and I dream of opening a bubble tea truck in Detroit. For now, I have to come to Ann Arbor to get my fix.

A: Wow. Bubble tea truck in Detroit! That would make your door-to-door adventures even more interesting. Thank you so much for sharing, Steph. I look forward to watching your campaign unfold!

S: Thank you,!

Follow Stephanie Chang’s campaign here.

Amy Liao currently lives and works in Philadelphia. Her t-shirt drawer is filled with shirts from Taiwanese American Foundation (TAF) and

The Mountain Brothers

The Mountain Brothers

The Mountain Brothers, one of the first Asian American hip hop groups, are back after a long hiatus. After performing with A Tribe Called Quest, having their music featured in Sprite and Nike commercials, and dropping 2 albums and an EP, the pioneers of Asian American hip hop recently released “Keep On” for CHOPS’ (Scott Jung) new project, Strength in NUMBERS. I catch up with CHOPS, Styles Infinite (Stephen Wei), and Peril-L (Christopher Wang) to talk about the new project.

Triple Crown, 2003

It’s been ten years since the release of your last album Triple Crown. What have you been up to since your last major album release?

Peril-L: My education and training background is in life science (molecular and cell biology), and I’ve been working as a scientist for the last 10+ years.

Styles Infinite: After Triple Crown, I went to medical school and now work as a teleradiologist.

CHOPS: Unlike these guys, who are also good at other stuff, and went on to become actual productive members of society (haha), I only focused on music. I was fortunate that people liked the sound of Mountain Brothers music, so I worked as a producer around the Philly area and branched out from there. I’ve worked with a bunch of different rappers from around the world since. Some of the better known are Young Jeezy, Talib Kweli, The Lonely Island, Nicki Minaj, Bun B, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Ice Cube, Snoop, and Raekwon.

Though I’ve followed you guys for a while, I only recently found out some of you have a connection to Taiwan. Can you elaborate? What’s your favorite thing about Taiwan?

Peril-L: My father is from Taiwan, so I consider myself to be half Taiwanese.  He still has some family there.  I got to visit about 20 years ago and would love to go back again.

Styles Infinite: Both of my parents are from Taiwan and we still have a lot of family there. I haven’t been back there since I was around 18. I think my favorite part is the great food. I’m sure it’s changed so much in 20 years, and I would love to go back and visit again.

What’s your opinion on the state of hip hop/rap music today and how have your opinions on the matter changed over time?

CHOPS: My opinions have definitely changed. I started out with a very specific view of what success meant, artistically. People knew Mountain Brothers for a very specific, niche sound which we were great at, but I always had a lot of influences and a lot of interests that I didn’t get to pursue until connecting with people from different regions, scenes, and so on. I think my taste leans a lot more toward commercial than it once did too, but I also think there’s less restrictions these days for rap / hip-hop artists than there were before. Exploring different sounds is more possible, and accepted.

Peril-L: I think my views have stayed pretty much the same over time.  I’ve always had an appreciation for a wide range of styles and sounds. After the Mountain Brothers disbanded, I didn’t listen to much hip-hop/rap at all for several years. I was a lot more into other genres like electronic music and other stuff.  I’ve gotten back into hip-hop/rap to some extent recently and it’s interesting to hear the influences from those other genres. It’s also cool to see newer and younger artists still making music similar to what we used to call “true hip-hop”.

Styles Infinite: I’m pretty much not listening to any hip-hop nowadays.  I basically live in a cave and listen to all my old stuff from when I was really into hip-hop.  But I do think there are some artists doing some really good stuff nowadays so I would like to discover some of these artists and get back into it a little more.

Left to Right: CHOPS, Styles, Peril-L, 1990s

Left to right: CHOPS, Styles, Peril-L, 1990s

CHOPS: Most of all I just love hip-hop music and its roots. My family is pretty Americanized you could say, but I think culturally there’s a thread connecting Americans who are “other,” who are not treated as being part of the mainstream, who are marginalized in different ways. There’s some shared experience and pride in heritage.

Styles: I probably haven’t thought about this question enough, but I’m sure being a member of a pretty small minority ethnic group in America as a Taiwanese American had something to do with it. Hip-hop is a music and culture for the marginalized member of society. At least it was when I got into it 25+ years ago. Now it’s pretty popular.

Peril-L: Growing up as a minority in a majority white area, hip-hop music and culture was very relatable. Especially in the late 80s and 90s when social consciousness and politics were major themes in rap.

Since your mainstream breakthrough, we’ve seen various Asian Americans in media from Jin to the Wong Fu guys to the Far East Movement. Do you think your legacy contributed to the breakthrough of these artists and what’s in the future for Asian American media?

CHOPS: It’s nice to see Asian American artists break through in all facets of entertainment. I do think we helped out with that, and I’m proud. But at the same time, everybody you named had their own struggles and hurdles getting to where they are. They all earned their own respect.

Peril-L: Agree with CHOPS.  I like to think that we helped increase visibility of Asian Americans in hip-hop culture and perhaps paved the way a little bit for the current wave of Asian American artists.  It’s a really positive feeling when some of them tell us that we inspired them to make music or pursue their dreams.

Styles Infinite: I think we did our part, but you would have to ask those artists whether we had any influence on them specifically.  I know there are some artists that count us as one of their inspirations.  In the future, with YouTube and the Internet where the filters and hurdles between the artist and the fan are lessened, talented people can have much more of an opportunity to take hold and become popular.  This can only be a good thing for Asian American artists who traditionally have been excluded from more typical avenues.

CHOPS, 2013

CHOPS: Strength In NUMBERS is a compilation album featuring over 30 of my favorite Asian American rappers and singers, with special guests from Japan and Korea. Styles and Peril-L were kind enough to make some new music for it too! With everybody’s help I’m trying to make the statement that Asian Americans have as much talent and diversity as anybody else, and some of us are really a force to be reckoned with, especially if we can show a little unity. Even before we became the Mountain Brothers we talked about how cool it would be to have, say an Asian American version of Motown (a 60s record label that brought black musicians into mainstream music) where people came together and made great music. The best way to learn more is check out or if you want to cut right to the chase and see & hear everybody on the project, go here:

Tell me about some of the artists that collaborated with you on this project. How’d you get in touch with them and what was the creative process like?

CHOPS: Some of the better known ones are Dumbfoundead, Tiger JK and Tasha, Lil Crazed, Prometheus Brown aka Geo from Blue Scholars, Bambu, and Verbal from m-flo / Teriyaki Boyz. A lot of them I got in touch with via Twitter, even ones I knew before. A few artists really helped with ideas and with getting more artists onboard, especially Joanlee, Rekstizzy, Ann One, and Bambu. Geo and Connie Lim both ran successful Kickstarter projects and gave really helpful advice. The creative process varied. For some songs and artists, it was possible to get in the studio and work together in the same space, but for others we worked over phone, Skype, email, etc.

You guys created a new song called “Keep On” specifically for this album. What’s the message behind the song and what was it like reuniting again to produce creative music?

Peril-L: Not to sound overly cheesy or anything, but I think “Keep On” is just a perfect reunion track for us.  CHOPS captured the essence of the classic Mountain Brothers sound without sounding dated.  Ann One was a beautiful addition, since we never really used vocal hooks in the past and she has an amazing voice.  Creating the actual song was very much done in the traditional Mountain Brothers fashion (which is a trade secret).  It was great that the three of us could get together and record our verses in CHOPS’ studio, shoot the video in Philly, and just hang out and chill like the old days.

Styles Infinite: I think it was a lot of fun. Chris and I have been away from making hip-hop music for 10 years now and getting together to do this project and all the memories brought up as it’s been moving along is a great joy.

CHOPS: I joke about how the guys have “real jobs” but it’s true, we’re all busy with work and life, so making new music together was a big deal. I’m grateful they made time for this. Having a new Mountain Brothers song is our way of letting younger APA artists know we went through many of the same things they do. Being able to actually reunite in person and record as a group was super fun for me. I expected them to be rusty, but ironically I was the one who had a couple issues on the technical side – they locked in like it was old times again. Working together was almost shocking for me, not only do they still have it, but we still had that synergy you only get from really knowing somebody for so long. Plus it was a great time just being around each other again.

Mountain Brothers: Peril-L, CHOPS, Styles, 2013

After this project, what’s next for you guys?

CHOPS: My main focus for the past couple years has been this project, and there’s opportunities I haven’t pursued that I’d like to really go after, production-wise. I’ve gotten back to work with a few artists, and happy to be working more with some of the artists from Strength In NUMBERS too.

Styles: This project was a great time-traveling trip back to a really fun time in my life. Now it’s back to being a boring radiologist. I have a pretty heavy work schedule but when I’m not working it’s pretty much trying to spend as much quality time with the family as I can…and a lot of soccer games.

Peril-L: Back to my regular job and life as well. Thanks to this project, I am thinking about getting back into making music occasionally on the side though!

Do you have any advice for Taiwanese and Asian Americans interested in music? How can they achieve the success that you all have had?

CHOPS: It’s definitely tough, and it takes more than talent to even make a decent living. It takes a certain amount of ignoring how bad the odds are. Perfect example, Steve and Chris are still two of the best rappers I’ve ever worked with, to this day, and they chose other paths which ultimately was the smart thing to do. I will say if you really really need to do music as your only thing, and absolutely can’t do anything else, make sure to learn as much as you can about the business of it, and study what works and what doesn’t, in addition to learning your craft.

Peril-L: Believe in yourself, constantly work hard and improve your craft, network as much as possible, and use all the resources and avenues available to get your music heard.

Styles Infinite: All that’s really needed is to get a YouTube account and get on there and do your stuff.  But the one caveat for that is that because the filters are not really there anymore, we are seeing artists much earlier in their development.  Music that the three of us were doing in our bedroom in the early part of our career would now be on the internet with a video.  That’s not necessarily a good thing! We see artists in their raw talent but we also see some underdeveloped or undeveloped work and so there’s a balance there.

If you want to learn more about the Mountain Brothers and CHOPS’ music project “Strength in NUMBERS”, check out the Kickstarter for the project and offer your support.

Justin Yang is a hip hop and rap music fan and a recent graduate from Columbia University. He works as a marketing manager in Silicon Valley. He is a longtime participant and leader in the Taiwanese American Foundation (TAF). Follow him on Twitter at @justin_yang for more of his musings.

A Chat with Brian Yang on Acting, Producing, and Taiwanese Parents

A Chat with Brian Yang on Acting, Producing, and Taiwanese Parents’s Ho Chie Tsai chats with Brian Yang, an actor and producing partner at 408 Films, an independent film production company that helps to produce and finance feature film productions and new media ventures. 408 Films has produced titles such as Fog, The People I’ve Slept With, and SuperCapitalist. Currently, he is one of the producers behind Linsanity, the Jeremy Lin documentary, opening on October 4, 2013.

On the acting side, Brian has appeared in film and television projects such as Saving Face, a 2005 Sundance & Toronto selection and numerous commercials between the US and Asia. He hosted Shanghai Rush, China’s first English language reality show in 2009 and is currently in a recurring role on the CBS hit Hawaii 5-0 in the role of lab tech Charlie Fong.

Brian Yang attended UC Berkeley where he studied biology and dramatic arts. He is a huge fan of The Ohio State Buckeyes.

Watch both interviews to hear about his experiences.

PART I: Path to Acting and Producing

PART II: On Taiwanese Parents, Pressure, and Projects

Find Brian on Facebook:
On Twitter:

Support Linsanity:

Follow Your Passion: Singer-songwriter Cynthia Lin

Follow Your Passion: Singer-songwriter Cynthia Lin

Some of you may have heard her smooth and heartwarming voice at Taiwanese American Professionals (TAP) and Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) events or even watched her music lessons and songs on YouTube. Jazz, folk, and indie singer, Cynthia Lin, chatted with me about her recent tour, the release of her music video, and her future projects.

For those not familiar with your work, you do a lot of jazz, folk, indie, and acoustic. You sing, but you also play the acoustic guitar, the ukulele, and the kazoo. What would you classify your musical style as?

I like to say that I’m a cross between Joni Mitchell and Ella Fitzgerald – a focus on vocals and classic songwriting, acoustic. Genre wise, I’d fall into indie acoustic with a jazz-folk leaning. Basically all the things you mentioned. With my band (Blue Moon All Stars), I definitely have a more big band sound.

You recently have been touring on the East Coast (D.C., Virginia, New York), how has that been going?

It’s like seeing old friends, old haunts. I’ve been catching up with old friends, sharing new music with them. I’ve been especially catching up with my artist friends in the different cities, and sharing new inspirations.

Do you ever find inspirations for new music when you travel or tour?

I think traveling and being on the road is an inspiration for many artists. I enjoy the time in transit (on plane, train, etc) to reflect on new experiences, recent inspirations and observations. It’s time to sit still and step outside of the daily routine. I also enjoy trying out new material on the road, got to test new songs in front of different crowds and see how they feel in the real world.

I noticed on all of your social media pages, you have this quote, “follow your passion”, listed on each page. What keeps you inspired to follow your passion for music?

I believe in craft – I believe practice makes better. I love singing and songwriting, and my passion is practicing both in pursuit of a well-crafted song and an honest performance. What keeps me inspired is that I know I can keep getting better, that the work will pay off.

Your new music video, “Microscope”, was released earlier this summer. How did this video come about and what was the vision for it?

I met choreographer Philein Wang at an ITASA event, actually. She saw my performance of the song Microscope and was inspired to create a duet for her dance company, Ziru Dance. By the way, Philein happens to be Taiwanese-Chinese, like myself.

I saw the duet at her dance company’s show, and had the vision of it being performed in black and white on the beach. From there, I was introduced to videographer Robert Gomez Hernandez, who also happens to be a dancer, which I think was integral to the editing and flow of the music video.

I became close with the dancers as well, working with them to express the meaning of the song. I’m just so thrilled that all these talented people came together to shoot and produce this work. I’m really proud to present this collaboration of various art forms.

In this song, you sing about trying to be yourself and this fear of being judged under a microscope by a significant other, what was the inspiration for writing this song?

When you get deeper into a relationship, your partner begins to see things in you that you may not have noticed about yourself. It’s revealing, and learning to be vulnerable and be seen is a way that we grow as individuals. You learn to trust, to be more open, and you grow, you accept more of yourself.

You write your own songs, but you also do a lot of covers. How do you choose which song to cover and do you ever feel any pressure covering a classic song?

I come from a jazz background, so I choose covers that I can interpret as my own. I want to bring something new and personal to the song, as if I had written it. Usually, I pick songs that I wish I had written.

There’s always pressure in covering a classic, but it’s a good challenge. It stretches me as a performer, and learning well written songs improves my songwriting.

Your most popular song on YouTube is a cover of Teresa Teng’s “The Moon Represents My Heart” (Yuèliàng Dàibiǎo Wǒde Xīn), which you covered to raise money for the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan back in 2010. I believe this is the only song you have sung in Mandarin that has been made public, so what was it like seeing so many positive reactions towards one of the most classic Chinese songs?

It’s really heartwarming to read the sweet comments on YouTube, and to feel that I have brought something new to this classic song. It’s a lovely song, and again the timeless melody and songwriting are what make it great. I’m most surprised that many Asian cultures outside of China and Taiwan know this song. It really is a world classic.

I am actually working on a Mandarin version of Microscope, and there will be more Teresa Teng covers coming in the next year.

You have performed all over the country, have you ever thought about performing in Taiwan and is that something you plan to do in the future?

I’d love to perform in Taiwan. My parents recently moved back, so I will be visiting more often, and will look into organizing a Taiwan tour.

You have released three albums (Blue and Borderlined, Doppelganger, Microscope) in your career with a number of singles as well. You are ending your tour by coming back to San Francisco next week for the release party of the “Microscope” video. Tell us about that and is there any new music to look forward to in the coming future?

I’m super excited for the Microscope video release party – I want to celebrate and thank everyone who contributed their energy and support to this project. Next up is a full band recording! We’ll be running a Kickstarter to fund a professional recording for Cynthia Lin and the Blue Moon All Stars, my beloved Bay Area band, as well as a fully styled video for my new ukulele-based song Zombie Heart. Recording dates are set for this fall, so look for the album early next year.

If you’re interested in supporting her Kickstarter project, click here:! Also, check out her YouTube videos for quick music lessons, tips, and her music! All of her digital albums are pay what you want and she has physical CDs for sale as well, so go check out her Bandcamp page! Support your local artist!

Microscope Release Party:

Kickstarter Project:


Michael Chen graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and also studied at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei with an emphasis in reading and writing. He is a part of Taiwanese American Citizens League (TACL) – Leadership Identity Development (LID) Camp, serving as a camp counselor or helping with fundraising events. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys playing basketball, listening to music and buying vinyl records in his spare time.

ITASA Stories: Connect, Inspire, and Empower

ITASA Stories: Connect, Inspire, and Empower’s HoChie Tsai sits down with Ada Chen, the 2013-2014 national president for the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) to talk about the national network and their initiatives for the coming year. Their mission is to provide events and resources that explore and celebrate Taiwanese American identity in order to connect, inspire, and empower an organic, thriving Taiwanese American community.

Since 1991, Taiwanese American collegiate students have organized local TASA’s and networked with their peers at other universities through the various ITASA Regional Conferences in the East Coast, Midwest and West Coast.

For more information about ITASA, visit: