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(Taiwanese or Chinese?… with Temelalj C from Taipei)

Demographics are a tricky and sensitive thing in Taiwan. Ethnically over 95% of the population is Han Chinese, but anyone born in Taiwan typically considers their nationality and even ethnicity to be “Taiwanese”. But the Han Chinese only started to arrive in the 16th century, while the native / ethnic / aboriginal Taiwanese began to settle here more than 4000 years ago. DNA links their roots with both Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander bloodlines.

Currently the aboriginal Taiwanese make up about 500,000 persons, or just over 2% of the total population. These include various tribes, such as Paiwan, of which two of the Taipei Elska Boys are descendent from: namely Temelalj C and Gemi Sakinu Z. As Gemi described in his story in the issue, there’s a lot of discrimination to deal with, something that I asked some non-aboriginals about.

One guy (I won’t reveal who) told me that if you’re in a café and you see some aboriginals (they’re typically easy to spot with their darker skin and different facial features), whispers will start. Occasionally you may even see people shuffle seats, he said. Then there’s people who exoticise and fetishise them, basically wanting to f*ck them but not actually date them. “You wouldn’t bring one home to meet your parents”, he said shamefully. They’re basically low down the social chain, though probably above the Thai and Filipino migrant workers.

Another guy I shot (I also won’t say who) acted like they don’t even exist. I mentioned that I’d shot a “native Taiwanese” guy that morning and he said “what do you mean? I’m native Taiwanese.”

“No, I mean ethnic Taiwanese,” I clarified, but he still didn’t get it.

“I’m ethnic Taiwanese,” he said, adding “I was born here.”

“No, but you’re of Chinese blood,” I said.

He shrugged his shoulders with some annoyance and said “oh, you’re talking about aboriginals.”

I guess the problem is that the majority of the Taiwanese population are so keen to separate themselves from the People’s Republic of China that they cling on to this title Taiwanese in order to asset a difference. This in turn marginalises the ethnic Taiwanese. It’s a sort of racist result of a political problem.

My advice for visitors to Taiwan is to be careful with the word ‘Chinese’ – the cuisine is ‘Taiwanese’ and the language is ‘Mandarin’! But the people, that’s just a minefield. Just remember that the island is filled with a mixture of people, all of whom have their right to be here, but some of their voices are louder than others’.

See more of Temelalj C and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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