There was joy and there were tears as thousands of people, migrants and natives alike, celebrated International Migrants Day Festival outside Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei yesterday.
Organized by the National Immigration Agency, the festival attracted residents from countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Japan and the US — as well as lots of Taiwanese.
Cultural performances, songs and dances from different countries enlivened center stage, while cultural exhibitions and food stalls selling exotic snacks drew long lines of people.
“People from different cultural and religious backgrounds make our society bigger, they make our lives more interesting and they help expand Taiwanese culture,” Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) told the opening ceremony.
“However, we have to bear in mind that immigrants are in a more disadvantaged position than most disadvantaged groups in this country, because they may not know the language and the culture well enough, and they don’t know the rules of the game in Taiwan,” he said. “That’s why it is the government’s responsibility to offer them assistance and we urge everyone in this country to be open-minded to people of different cultures and nationalities.”
A group of Vietnamese students introduced their culture by inviting people to try Vietnamese dishes or play traditional Vietnamese games at their booth.
Calling people’s attention with a loudspeaker, Vietnamese Students’ Association in Taiwan president Truong Duc Phuc, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at National Taiwan University (NTU), said he enjoyed living in Taiwan.
“Everything is pretty good in Taiwan, and Taiwan is very advanced in the areas of science and technology; that’s why I wanted to study here for graduate school,” Truong said. “When I first came to Taiwan, I couldn’t speak Mandarin well, but my classmates were very nice and friendly, they gave me a lot of help.”
Now in Taiwan for three years, Truong said he was still not used to the food.
“The food in Taiwan is too greasy and too sweet, that’s probably the only thing that I still cannot get used to,” he said.
Nguyen Minh Phuong, an undergraduate in accounting at NTU, said she had traveled around Taiwan to get to know the country better. She has also taken groups of Taiwanese friends with her to Vietnam to show them around her home country and to work as volunteers at Taiwanese schools in Vietnam.
However, amid all the joy and revelry, there was also sadness.
Lin Li-chan (林麗蟬), a Cambodian immigrant spouse, broke into tears as she recounted how she has been discriminated against because of where she comes from.
Lin, a makeup artist, said that once a couple making arrangements for their wedding found her Web site and asked her to do makeup for the bride.
They first talked about the deal online, and only when they finally met in person to discuss the details did the couple hear her accent.
“They asked about it. I said I am Cambodian. Then they told me they would get back to me later because they were going to postpone the wedding,” Lin said. “They never came back.”
Her daughter, Penny Hsieh (謝佩汝), won a nationwide tennis competition for 12-year-olds. Despite this achievement, Lin said the coach still treated her daughter differently.
“The coach doesn’t pay as much attention to us as to the other children and parents who are Taiwanese,” Lin said. “Maybe it’s because we’re foreigners, and the coach — I don’t know how to say it — maybe the coach just doesn’t like us because we’re foreigners.”