Taiwan: Immigrant Voices in Literature

A Southeast Asian-language literary award helps promote diversity and cultural understanding.

On Aug. 30 last year, the halls of the National Taiwan Museum in Taipei were flooded by a sea of color and the sound of many languages speaking at once. The mood was light and the crowd diverse, with a variety of clothing on display, from the elegant, ankle-length ao dai of Vietnam to the Muslim hijab, which can take many forms but is often a headscarf or veil. The visitors to the museum had gathered to attend the second annual Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants. “Anyone who could utter a word of welcome in a Southeast Asian language—whether the Thai sawadee ka or the Indonesian apa kabar—was welcome to take part,” says Chang Cheng (張正), organizer of the award and co-founder of Brilliant Time, a bookstore in New Taipei City that focuses on Southeast Asian-language publications. 

When the first Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants took place in 2014, Brilliant Time was still an online forum designed to facilitate discussions about the well-being of migrants from Southeast Asia. Now Chang, who majored in Southeast Asian studies at university, uses the bookstore as a base of operations to further his efforts to help migrants find their place in Taiwanese society, and to help native residents better understand the cultures of their new neighbors. The annual award is the most ambitious of Chang’s efforts to spread cultural awareness, and has gained the support of the Ministry of Culture. The government body earmarked NT$700,000 (US$21,540) to help fund the award in each of the past two years, and will do so again for the third edition.