By I-fan Lin
In Taiwan, the population of foreign workers and immigrants has been on the rise in recent years and constitutes a significant part of Taiwanese society. The total population in Taiwan is about 23 million; the aboriginal population makes up about 2.3% of the total and there are also about 720,000 foreign workers serving in the industrial and service sectors in Taiwan. A majority of these workers are from Southeast Asian countries, mainly Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand. Over the past 20 years, the number of spouses from Southeast Asia and their children that are settling in Taiwan has grown in size to around 200,000.
Since 2014, the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants has been encouraging these foreign-born groups to express themselves in their mother tongues, an effort that has also allowed the Taiwanese people to learn more about these cultures and stories.
The literature award was initiated by Cheng Chang the founder and former editor of 4-Way Voice, a printed and online magazine which publishes news reports in Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Tagalog, Burmese, and Cambodian.
Cheng Chang explained the motivation behind the creation of this literature award:
Therefore, considering the diversity and energy in their creativity, we planned to set up a long-standing literature award so that they can make their own history through writing. They can build up new literature traditions for stories about two home countries (for foreign spouses), about the offspring of two countries (for the second generation), and about diaspora (for migrant workers).
Currently, this literature award receives articles written in Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. Because most of these writers are away from their homeland, many of the stories are about the longing they feel for their family and homeland and their sorrow when they hear of a loved one’s death.
Nàng Thơ from Vietnam wrote a letter for her parents:
Some of the pieces are sad stories about their lives in Taiwan. In 2013, several crews from Indonesia killed the Taiwanese captain of the ship. Even though the judge in the case felt that the captain was abusive towards the crew, the people who killed the captain were sentenced to 14 to 28 years in the jail. Tania Roos from Indonesia wrote a story telling us about the fictionalized crew:
Soon after, Sardi approached the blood-covered body of the captain. Howling, Sardi took two steps back. Limped and slumped. He was rendered speechless. To his buddies, he pointed to the direction of the lifeless captain.
Learning that, the crew was in panic. Someone checked the captain’s pulse. Another was trying to hear his breathing. Another thought that he was just unconscious. Another was crying in fear. Hearing the frenzy, two men went out of the steering room. Their eyes were broadened after figuring out what happened. The captain was truly dead. The navigator informed the nearby maritime police station.
The Maritime Police took us away, followed by many tiring trials, and finally the sentence was announced. This is what really happened, ma’am. We were enraged, we had reached the limit of our patience.’ Wasto said softly, with tears in his eyes.
Sejurus kemudian, Sardi iseng mendekati Kapten yang tertelentang berlumuran darah. Dengan teriakan keras, Sardi mundur dua langkah. Lemas dan terduduk. Ia tak mampu berkata apa-apa. Hanya menunjukkan kepada kawan-kawannya jika Kapten tidak bernapas lagi.
Mengetahui hal tersebut, para ABK mulai panik. Ada yang memeriksa nadi Kapten. Ada pula yang mendekatkan telinga ke dada untuk mendengar napasnya. Ada yang menduga Kapten sedang pingsan. Ada pula yang menangis karena ketakutan. Mendengar kepanikan itu, dua orang dari ruang kemudi turut ke luar dan terbelalak mengetahui kejadian yang sebenarnya.
Kapten benar-benar meninggal. Juru mudi melaporkan kejadian ini kepada pos keamanan terdekat. “Kami dijemput polisi air dan akhirnya harus menjalani sidang-sidang yang melelahkan, hingga vonis dijatuhkan. Itu kejadian yang sebenarnya, Bu, kami sangat emosi. Kami sudah di ujung kesabaran.” Ungkap Wasto lirih. Matanya berkaca-kaca.
On the other hand, some of the stories are filled with hope for the future. อนันต์ศรีลาวุธ is from Thailand and he talks about his love for music and making friends:
Lê Hoàng Hiệp is a graduate student from Vietnam and he wrote a story about a Vietnamese woman who married a Taiwanese citizen:
‘Son, was there anything interesting at the school?
Hung was sitting behind and hugging his mom. Hearing the question, he starts talking.
‘Yes. Some college students came to our class and taught us how to make kites. After they knew that I have a Vietnamese mom, they asked me whether I could speak Vietnamese. I said no, but I can sing Vietnamese songs. Then I sang the song you taught me, ‘I love grandma’. Everyone said I sang very well.’
‘My son is so gifted. I’m going to teach you more Vietnamese later.’
A Hưng nãy giờ vẫn ngồi sau ôm lấy mẹ, nghe hỏi thì bi bô:
– Dạ vui, có mấy anh chị sinh viên đại học tới dạy lớp con làm diều. Có người biết con có mẹ là người Việt Nam nên mới hỏi con biết nói tiếng Việt không. Con nói không, nhưng mà biết hát tiếng Việt, rồi con hát cho mọi người nghe bài “Cháu yêu Bà” mẹ dạy con đó. Ai cũng khen con hát hay.
– Con của mẹ thật giỏi, để mẹ sẽ dạy con nói thêm nhiều tiếng Việt nha
I did not know the number of people lying in their blood on Metro. I was thrilled. I felt the God of Death looking at me. I curled my body behind a wheelchair. Oh. I tried to hide myself helplessly. But I was very scared. I did not expect to experience such tragedy in a place so far away from my family and hometown.
Entah berapa orang yang bergelimpangan berdarah-darah di lantai kereta metro itu. Aku gemetar hebat. Maut serasa mengintaiku. Kurundukan badan merendah di belakang kursi roda. Ah, sebuah usaha sembunyi yang sia-sia. Tapi sungguh aku takut sekali. Tak terbayangkan akan mengalami tragedi ketika jauh dari tanah air dan keluarga sendiri.
Nanik Riyati is from Indonesia and she wrote a story about the hijab:
I started to pray and looked for any way to obey Allah and kept doing my job. I felt envy and sad when I saw my friends wearing hijab freely. I could only tell myself, ‘Allah, I hope one day I will be allowed to wear my hijab.’[…]
Suddenly, I remember the letter grandpa wrote to me. When I was busy doing homework assigned in the school, I wrote to the daughter of my boss in simple English. I believe she can understand what I wrote in the letters. I explained the duty of Muslims. Wearing hijab is an order from Allah, and it is the most important principle for women to obey the religion, which will make me more patient to take care of her grandpa, kinder, and more honest.
After finishing my duty, I gave her the letter I prepared, and then I came back to my room and prayed. Suddenly my door was opened, she ran in and held me. She kissed my hairs and said, ‘You can wear hijab. You can wear your dress. You can pray, you can study, you can do anything you like, but don’t leave us and please take care of Ah-kong, because he loves you and likes you. If this was your reason to go home please stay here and do as your Allah asked you to do. I allow you and I will explain to Ah-kong and my brother.’
I cried happily on my knees. I held her tightly and agreed to expand my contract. In addition to continue my education in the college, I can pay back my debt. Thanks Allah. This is true. If we pray with our heart and keep working, Allah will answer us.
Dengan kesedihan dan kekecewan terpaksa ku lepas hijabku dan berpakaian seperti biasa, tetapi dalam hati, aku tetap berkeinginan untuk berhijab dan menjadi muslimah yang baik.
Aku mulai istikamah berdoa dan berusaha mencari informasi bagaimana caranya agar bisa berhijab menjalankan perintah Allah dan tetap bekerja dengan baik. Rasa iri dan sedih setiap kali melihat teman-teman bisa bebas berhijab selalu terbesit. Dalam hati hanya bisa berucap, “Ya Allah semoga suatu saat aku diperbolehkan berhijab”.[…] Tiba-tiba aku teringat akan surat yang Ah-kong tulis buatku. Maka di sela-sela kesibukan mengerjakan tugas kuliah, kutulis sebuah surat dengan bahasa Inggris dengan vocabulary yang pas-pasan dan grammarnya yang tidak lengkap. Akan tetapi aku yakin Siauce memahami isi suratku.
Ku jelaskan kewajiban wanita muslimah untuk berhijab itu diperintahkan langsung oleh Allah dan keutamaan wanita yang berhijab dan taat beragama pasti akan lebih sabar dalam mengurus orang tua, lebih ikhlas dalam bekerja dan jujur.
Selesai kerja kuberikan surat yang sudah kupersiapkan dan aku masuk kamar untuk melaksanakan salat isya. Tiba-tiba pintu kamar terbuka, Siauce berlari memelukku dengan erat sambil menangis. Diciuminya rambutku sambil berkata:
“You can wear hijab. You can wear your dress. You can pray, you can study, you can do anything you like, but don’t leave us and please take care of Ah-kong, because he loves you and likes you. If this was your reason to go home please stay here and do as your Allah asked you to do. I allow you and I will explain to Ah-kong and my brother.”
“If you have something to talk, just tell me and we can communicate”.
Spontan aku bersujud dan menangis. Ku peluk erat tubuh Siauce, ku anggukkan kepala dan aku setuju untuk menambah kontrakku, di samping aku bisa melanjutkan kuliahku dan melunasi hutang-hutangku. Terima kasih ya Allah, ternyata benar, kalau kita berdoa dengan istiqamah, berusaha tanpa henti Allah pasti akan mengabulkan doa kita.
And finally, Filipina Wala’s beautiful words can perfectly sum up the spirit of the literature award:
To realize my dream and to bring a bright future to my family, my heart has been stronger. If I didn’t leave my country, I will never discover that here in Taiwan, I also have fellow Filipinos who found love and built their own families. That it is possible for people to be friends with those who belong to a different race and culture.
This is still a long trip for me here but my heart is at ease in this second home I found in this country. Step by step, all my dreams will come true. There is nothing better than to see the fruit of all my hard work even if this means I have to wait for a long time.
Even if I was unable to get a white-collar job here, I want to salute all ordinary workers in Taiwan. Our job is not easy. Without perseverance and endurance, we cannot make it no matter how smart we are.
Every time I feel sad, I just think that each passing day is a day closer when I finally get to see the smile of my mother and embrace my family.
‘Grandpa, I reached the end of the fields. I did not walk like we discussed because I found that I can fly. Thank you for being the first to teach me that I can do whatever I want to do. I also learned that there is a new life waiting at the end of the field. Every ending is made for a new start.
Ang puso ko ay pinagtibay na ng hangaring matupad ang aking mga pangarap at mabigyan ng magandang buhay ang aking pamilya. Kung hindi ako umalis ng aking bansa, hindi ko matutuklasan na dito sa Taiwan, marami rin akong kapatid na Pilipino na dito na nakahanap ng pag-ibig at bumuo ng sariling pamilya. Na pwede pala na magkaibigan ang dalawang lahi magkaiba man ang kanilang kulturang kinagisnan.
Malayo pa ang biyaheng tatahakin ko rito ngunit kampante na ang puso ko sa pangalawang tahanang nahanap ko sa bansang ito. Lahat ng pangarap ko ay matutupad kahit paunti-unti at mabagal lang. Wala naman ng mas sasarap pa sa katas ng iyong pinaghirapan matagal man ang kailangang hintayin.
Hindi man ako nakakuha ng propesyonal na trabaho rito, naging saludo naman ako sa lahat ng mga ordinaryong manggagawa dito sa Taiwan. Hindi biro ang aming trabaho. Balewala ang talino kung hindi ito sasamahan ng tiyaga at pasensya.
At sa tuwing nalulungkot ako, iniisip ko na bawat araw na lumilipas ay isang araw na palapit nang palapit sa oras na makikita ko nang muli ang ngiti ng aking ina at mahahagkan ang aking pamilya.
“Lolo, nakarating na ako sa dulo ng bukid. Hindi ko ito nilakad kagaya ng pinag-usapan natin. Natuklasan ko kasi na kaya ko pa lang lumipad. Salamat sa’yo na unang nagturo sa akin na kaya kong gawin ang lahat ng kaya kong isipin. Natuklasan ko rin na sa dulo ng bukid ay may panibagong mundo pang naghihintay. Na sa bawat katapusan ay may panibagong simula.”
Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Global Voices’ Southeast Asia team, including Mong Palatino, Juke Carolina, and Don Lê, for helping to revise the translation. This article originally appeared on Global Voices.