Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 4 News List

DAP-Taiwan is a space for community

COMING TOGETHER After realizing black people shared many similar challenges in Taiwan, a group was formed where they could meet and talk about their experiences

By Caroline Hong  /  STAFF REPORTER

Jaleea Price, left, and Elissa Russel, right, founders of the black social group Descendants of African People Taiwan.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

People of African descent are a common sight in Taiwan's Westernized media environment. Each weekend, young people dance in Taipei clubs to hip-hop music made famous by black artists, and last month fans across the country snapped up thousands of NT dollars-worth of Nike apparel just for the chance to see basketball legend Michael Jordan.

But what do Taiwanese know about the black people they live and work beside in Taiwan? That is a question Elissa Russell and Jaleea Price are trying to answer with the establishment of a new Taipei-based organization, DAP-Taiwan (Descendants of African Peoples in Taiwan).

The creation of DAP, which currently has 50-plus members and is still growing, seeks to bring people of African descent in Taipei together. Its founders want DAP to provide the newly-arrived and well-established black people in Taipei with a community in which they can find support and to educate local Taiwanese about what it means to be black.

"We're hoping to build a sense of community, a place were people can relax -- where they can be themselves without the questions and the staring. A place where you don't have to explain something," Price told the Taipei Times last week.

"Also, a lot of [black people] are teachers, so a lot of us want to share and have our students experience black people from many different countries, who are so many shades of black and brown," she said.

"This is really a wonderful way for the Taiwanese community to learn from us."

Price is a black American woman who has lived in Taiwan for three years. Since coming, she's married and had a daughter here, and has long hoped to begin a social group in Taiwan for the black community. She was unable to get the idea off the ground, however, until she met another young black American with the same idea: Elissa Russell, an energetic woman who has taught English in Taiwan for two years.

Price and Russell came together to develop the idea for DAP in May when mutual friends told each of them of the other's interest in forming a black social group.

DAP has many functions, chief of which is establishing a way for black people in Taiwan to meet each other.

"For a long time, I had to look in the mirror every day if I wanted to see another black person," Russell said.

DAP also hopes to give black people in Taipei a chance to get away from curious eyes and questions, in a place where they can talk about their common experiences such as local stereotypes.

"It's not maliciousness necessarily, but it's just that we're constantly being gawked at," Price said, referring to the constant scrutiny blacks experience in Taiwan.

"Some days, it's kind of funny, but other days, you get the hint.

"Students want to know why the inside of my hand is white, and the other side is not white," she said. "They ask, `Teacher Elissa, why did you draw on your hand?' And I say, `I did not draw on my hand. I don't know what to tell you. Why is your palm pink?'"

Talking with DAP members, it becomes clear black people in Taiwan deal with constant comparisons to black icons and trends in the media.

"One of my first experiences in Taiwan was when a woman said to me, `I can't believe you're really black, can you do a dance for me? `I was like, it's too hot for this. Where am I? I can't deal with you now," Russell said.

Such experiences have led members such as Jerri Graham to emphasize the educational aspect of DAP.

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