Shared heritage: TaiwanFest 2018 celebrates ties binding Taiwanese and Filipinos through the ages

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      Taiwanese and Filipino people are much closer to each other than many of them probably realize.

      It may be that ties are so deeply rooted and so old that these things have come to be regarded as natural and casually taken for granted.

      “There are a lot of Filipino connections that we don’t talk about quite often,” Taiwan-born Vancouver resident Charlie Wu observed in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.

      To cite an example, Wu, the driving force behind TaiwanFest, which features Fête With the Philippines as its theme this year, doesn’t need to look farther away than home.

      His Taiwanese wife was born in the Philippines, and so was his mother-in-law, also a Taiwanese national.

      “That’s not a unique story to my family,” Wu said. “It’s quite often, because a lot of [Taiwanese] people were doing business in the Philippines, and have relatives in the Philippines.”

      In addition, his brother ended up marrying a Filipino person in San Francisco.

      Wu is the managing director of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association (ACSEA), which organizes TaiwanFest, one of the biggest cultural events of its kind in Canada.

      In 2016, TaiwanFest began its Dialogues With Asia series to connect with other Asian communities, starting with A Cultural Tango With Hong Kong. The next year featured a celebration of Japanese culture.

      The choice of the Filipino community as TaiwanFest’s next dialogue partner was easy. “In a way, the more that we look and the more that we understand, it’s almost too bad that we didn’t, you know, do this earlier, and we didn’t have this kind of dialogue earlier, because there’s just so much we can share,” Wu said.

      TaiwanFest will take place on Granville Street between West Pender and Robson streets, at the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza, and in the Orpheum Annex, from September 1 to 3.

      Taiwanese and Filipino people share a common heritage in language. A few years ago, a Manila-based newspaper noted in a report that the Amis, one of the Indigenous peoples of Taiwan, say lima for “five”, pito for “seven”, and mata for “eye”, as Filipinos do when they speak Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.

      Moreover, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported in 2015 that the native Tsou of Taiwan call their community meeting hut a kuba, and pointed out that it is similar in design to the kubo of the Philippines.

      In 2011, David Blundell, a faculty member of Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, wrote a paper regarding the island nation’s role in the spread of languages in Asia. In “Taiwan Austronesian Language Heritage Connecting Pacific Island Peoples: Diplomacy and Values”, Blundell stated that the country was a “language stepping-stone into the Pacific from the Asian continent”.

      “Since Neolithic prehistory, Taiwan has ushered in the Austronesian languages that became about 1,200 in number spreading across most of Island Southeast Asia and Oceania for several thousand years, extending from origins, with examples found in the Formosan languages, through the Malayo-Polynesian languages of the islands of Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Micronesia, Melanesian islands, Polynesia, and across the Indian Ocean in Madagascar,” according to the paper.

      The linguistic connection between Taiwan and the Philippines is the reason TaiwanFest is bringing over the Auba Rukai Children’s Choir. The Rukai are an Indigenous group in Taiwan, whose language belongs to the Austronesian family.

      According to Wu, the Rukai’s native language almost disappeared due to colonization, an experience that Canada’s Indigenous peoples share as a legacy of the residential-school system.

      “This group is a good reminder for newcomers to Canada to understand that perspective of respecting the Indigenous community,” Wu said, referring to the choir.

      Its performance schedule includes a concert on September 1 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza. Starting at 7:30 p.m., the show also features Filipino-Canadian recording artist Warren Dean Flandez and Taiwanese cello prodigy Jamie Chan.

      Jamie Chan plays with the Taipei Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

      Strong people-to-people connections

      In addition to a shared heritage in language, Taiwanese and Filipinos may also have the same origins.

      Two years ago, a paper titled “Resolving the ancestry of Austronesian-speaking populations” was published online by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the U.S. The genetic study was able to “infer a primarily common ancestry” for populations in Taiwan and Southeast Asia that was “established before the Neolithic” age.

      One of the authors is Dr. Tse-Yi Wang of Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei. Wang will deliver a talk on this subject on September 1 at the Orpheum Annex.

      Taiwan and the Philippines are geographically close to each other. Taiwan is the closest country to the north of the Philippines. Tourism exchange between the countries is strong.

      The independent island nation is also host to more than 150,000 Filipino workers, according to the latest figures online from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines.

      Mario Subeldia was one of the Filipino workers who came to make a living in Taiwan. He was later discovered by Taiwanese media as a sand artist. He has since emerged as a notable migrant artist, known for painting and fashion design as well. As part of TaiwanFest, Subeldia will showcase his newest fashion creations at a show on September 2 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza, starting at 8:30 p.m.

      The fashion show will include Solenn Heusaff, a Filipino-French actor in the Philippines, as of the models. She was invited to the festival by the United Filipino Canadian Associations in B.C. (UFABC), which is collaborating with Wu's ACSEA to stage this year's festival.

      Mario Subeldia is a recognized Filipino immigrant artist in Taiwan.

      Pinoy block on Granville Street

      Joel Castillo is the president of UFCABC, a conglomeration that counts more than 30 Filipino community organizations from Prince George to Victoria.

      “It’s a big opportunity for us to showcase our culture,” Castillo told the Straight in a phone interview about the festival.

      The 500 block of Granville Street between Pender and Dunsmuir streets has been designated as Pinoy block during the three-day festival.

      Castillo said that the Pinoy block will feature visual, martial, and performance arts.

      Castillo acknowledged that he started to learn more about the historical and current ties between Taiwanese and Filipino people after he and UFCABC started working with Wu and ACSEA. “This is something that we should celebrate,” he said.

      These links include the intermarriage of thousands of Taiwanese and Filipinos. Gen Huang has a Taiwanese spouse, and she founded PhilTai, an online media platform in Taipei that is dedicated to helping communities in need in the Philippines. Huang’s work will be showcased through displays and a talk at TaiwanFest.

      In March of this year, Wu and his team travelled to Cebu City in the Philippines as part of their preparations for the festival. One of the words they learned on the trip was mestizo, Spanish for someone of mixed race. They also discovered that Filipinos typically hold that everyone is likely of combined ancestry, and that race isn’t a big deal. It’s a mindset that honours the intermingling produced by the country’s heritage of Spanish and American colonization, as well as migration to and from the country before, during, and after foreign occupation.

      “So we thought maybe one day in Canada, the way that our diverse society will progress…is the state of mestizo,” Wu said. “It’s going to be so mixed that we don’t really need to focus on each individual’s ancestry or ties.”

      According to Wu, the idea of races being able to move and mix freely is important to highlight in the festival.

      “We thought this is really a good reminder and a good reference for our festival to be able to bring up and share,” Wu said.

      TaiwanFest Fête With the Philippines runs from September 1 to 3 on Granville Street between West Pender and Robson streets, at the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza, and in the Orpheum Annex.