The two main reasons people around the world leave their country and flock to America: to seek political freedom and to establish a better life. According to US Census Bureau data, America accepted 13.2 million new immigrants between 1990 and 2000. Taiwanese participation in this global diaspora started very early. In the 60s, it was common for college graduates—especially ones from prominent universities—to set their sights on America. A well-known saying at the time was “Come, come, come/ Come to the National University/ Go, go, go/ Go to America!” Most of these graduates, after earning their degrees, chose to stay in the US and become citizens. After World War II, America became a world super power in politics and economy. It was easy to see the attraction. Kids elsewhere were going to school without shoes. They watched American television and grew up with images of American kids riding around in colorful cars and living in nice houses with big gardens.
Political instability was another factor contributing to Taiwanese people’s emigration. In the early 1970’s, the Chiang Kai-Shek regime, an important ally of the Asian anti-communist countries, was severely threatened. America was heading to end the cold war after failing in the prolonged and painful Vietnam War. In 1972, to the world’s surprise, President Nixon paid an official visit to communist China. Worse still for Taiwan, the United Nations forcefully ousted Taiwan from its position as one of the five founders of the UN Security Council and gave its seat to China. To add insult to injury, it mercilessly expelled Taiwan from the UN immediately following a big strike. Since then, the world has labeled Taiwan not an independent country, but a rebel of China.
Taiwanese people (and I was one of them) were shocked, angry, confused; we felt deeply betrayed. Many people believed that China would soon take over the island and demolish its democracy. Consequentially, the act of emigration occurred; we used the word “flee” to describe it. My childhood neighbor settled in South America’s Uruguay. Their arrangement was to have the father quit his job and relocate with their 10-year-old son, while the mother stayed to make money to support the family. I remember feeling very sad when I saw them move away. There were many such families that courageously split apart due to the financial uncertainty of the country’s political situation. This was the price people paid to pursue a precious “real democracy” and “better life.”
Henry’s second sister and her husband followed the trend and came to America in 1970. Both of them were offered graduate degree scholarships by American universities. “Only by enduring the toughest hardship can one become the best of all.” This popular Chinese saying rang true for many Taiwanese immigrants who were high achievers like them. They made their home and established their careers in Louisiana while raising two outstanding children. In 1985, with their encouragement, the migration of Henry’s siblings began. Henry and I didn’t plan to move abroad until his sister urged us to. As two of Henry’s other siblings chose not to move, we were weighing our options.
For better or worse—we were not sure—we finally decided to take the risk and headed off to the new world. The wait was long. We felt restless and frustrated because we couldn’t make any long-term plans on our homeland. Henry rejected promotions while I rejected job offers. What we could not reject was the calling from this new country, which echoed some sort of promise. Our minds were fixed on the other side of the ocean although there was no target.
Were we frightened that we might not be able to survive? Yes, we were. But with the encouragement of family members, our spirit for adventure triumphed.
The move was heartbreaking for my side of family. For my parents, they lost a daughter. My mother wouldn’t say anything to dissuade me, even though she hoped it would not happen. My father, on the other hand, asked (and would continue to ask many years after I left), “Why do you need to go? You can live well here!” I could only answer him with a weak voice, “I know, but it is always good to discover new things!” For them, my absence in their lives was impossible to justify no matter how good the reason.
Now we were here, starting our new lives as we’d wished. Everything seemed satisfactory up to this point. We should have felt grateful, but situated in our nice apartment furnished with new things and two cars to go around, Henry and I carried a sense of guilt. We called our parents once a week. From my parents, we’d receive words like “We are fine, don’t worry!” From Henry’s parents, we’d hear descriptions of troubles: “We are very lonely and scared!” or “I wish you were here to help us; your father doesn’t feel well.” We could do no more to comfort them than saying, “Sorry we can’t be there, please take care of yourself!” We would take care of you if we could—in our hearts, there was a place we kept this burden.
政治的不穩定又給台灣人民加上另一個出走的理由。蔣介石政權在二次大戰後成為反共產黨國家在太平洋的重要防衛點，但在70 年代, 這個反共產黨的地位受到嚴重的威脅。美國經歷了越南戰爭的慘痛經驗後，政治發展是往結束冷戰的方向進行，尼克森總統於1972年往中國大陸訪問，此舉震驚了全界。更糟的是，原來是聯合國五個安全理事會員國之一的台灣，被會員國投票決定，把這個席位讓出給中國大陸，連並喪失了聯合國會員的資格。從此以後，台灣不再被世界認定是一個國家，而是中國的叛黨。
Henry的二姐和姐夫就是隨著這股潮流，在台灣大學畢業後，於1970年以大學獎學金來美國深造，之後他們留下來， 在路易斯安那州事業有成，並扶養造就成兩位非常傑出的兒女。他們是實行中國傳統好教養：「吃得苦中苦，方為人上人」 而成功的典型書香之家。 在他們的鼓勵下，Henry 的家人於1985年開始往美國移民。 那時，我們並沒有積極想來此的計劃， 但是Henry 的姐姐一直鼓勵著。在來與不來之間，我們要做個抉擇。