Friday, October 30, 2015

Tony Coolidge, A Taiwanese Aboriginal Activist from the US (News Lens)

The Atayal are an Austronesian tribe indigenous to the mountains of north Taiwan, so it's surprising to find one of the tribe's most high-profile members in Tainan City's Xigang District, a small lowlands town in the south. Even more unusual is that this man speaks to his wife and three children not in Atayal, or Taiwanese or Mandarin, but English.

It wasn't until 2009 that Tony Coolidge, as he's known to most of the world, gained his Atayal name, Shilan Sabi. Spurred largely by the lack of pride many Taiwanese aborigines show in their ancestry and culture, Coolidge has devoted much of the past two decades to projects which aim to build tribal dignity and bolster links between Taiwan's Austronesian minority and indigenous people in other parts of the world.

Coolidge was born in Taipei in 1967. He moved to the US with his mother, Chen Yu-chu, and adoptive father, American soldier David Coolidge, in 1972, after one year spent at a US military base in Japan. But he didn't discover his aboriginal heritage until 1995, a year after his mother – who grew up in what's now New Taipei City's Wulai District – had passed away from cancer.

Neither Coolidge nor his mother ever returned to Taiwan between 1971 and her death. He didn't apply for a Taiwanese passport until 2009, when he decided to move back to Taiwan with his wife, Hsu Shu-min, who he met in Florida. Like most Taiwanese, Shu-min traces her ancestry to Fujian province in China.

“My mother missed her family very much, and it was her fondest wish to return for a visit..."

Earlier this year, News Lens - a Chinese-language website with Taiwan and Hong Kong editions - invited me to contribute to the International Edition they were gearing up to launch. After a few delays, my first article appeared earlier this week. To read the entire piece, click here.

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