Updated: Mar 12
I’d like to think if I were to believe in a deity it would be Taiwan. It would be 95 degrees in July, the cicadas melting off of treetops. It would be the English fading on my tongue, the bright red of my fingers after burning the tips on fried mushrooms from the night market.
I’d like to think if I were to believe in a deity it would be the kind of deity that loves you back.
Taiwan would be the kind of deity that convinces the Auntie selling dragonfruit not to bump up her prices when she sees me. Taiwan would be the kind of deity to make me from blood that is just as pure as everyone else’s. Maybe then I’ll be able to take out the trash without coming back covered in mosquito bites — I wonder if even the bugs are taught how to spot a foreigner.
When I say Taiwan is a deity, I mean Taiwan is the kind of deity that feeds me stinky tofu
without flinching, without second-guessing my American Girl taste buds.
Taiwan is playing on the scrap metal piles outside my uncle’s factory. Taiwan is the soles of my feet remaining unscathed like the other kids. Taiwan is my ankles exploding into boils from the heat. When I get heatstroke from eating ice cream at Sun Moon Lake, or brown rice stuck between my back teeth, that is Taiwan too.
Taiwan as a deity is unforgiving. It’s the cockroaches scuttling under the tv set, and the set of instructions I memorize to guide taxi drivers to our family home. It’s my grandparent’s friends, who emerge out from behind their screen doors to watch us drag our suitcases past the iron gates.
Taiwan is the girl at the Lancome counter that calls my mom dark when I am darker and tries to sell her a cushion compact in the same breath, looking at me all accusatory.
Taiwan is the lady at department store pushing tone-up cream into my hands, telling me it can make my complexion brighter. (Brighter is a euphemism for lighter, so I take the jar.)
American Girl needs the extra help to get rid of her California tan, so she can be pretty again. Have you ever seen a Taiwanese Girl as dark as she is?
Taiwan as a deity is my grandmother telling me to remove my ring before we go to the market. She tells me it’s too flashy, and that there’s no need to show off. People talk, she says. I know. They always talk when the American Girl comes back into town. But above all, no matter how American I am, Taiwan as a deity claims me.
It’s the swell of pride in my chest when I see the rainbow flags in Taipei. It’s the double takes when I hear Mandarin in the crowd. It’s the familiar smell of humidity that hits my nose when I step off the plane.
And so, when it is 95 degrees in July and I am sweating, sitting at the dining table with relatives I don’t recognize,
I know that is Taiwan, watching over me: The best kind of deity.
As a Taiwanese-American girl, my relationship with my motherland has always been complex. Taiwan is summer break and pearl tea, but it is also verbena mosquito repellent and betel nuts. With this poem, I wanted to dig into both the good and bad memories I have associated with Taiwan, in order to put my identity into some sort of order.
Jasmine Kapadia is a teen poet from the Bay Area. She has work in Malala Fund’s Assembly and Cathartic Youth Lit, among others. When not writing, she can be found blasting Beyoncé or watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Cover Photo Source: CNN