I met Leigh through a summer camp called OCAC I attended in 2012 where we learned Chinese in Taiwan. Although we weren't close in the duration of camp, our friendship grew stronger after it ended. In this interview, Leigh shares her thoughts on being biracial and her pride of being Taiwanese. The sunflowers in the background are supposed to symbolize the Sunflower Student Movement.
STEPH: What is one thing you’re very passionate about as an Asian American female?
LEIGH: I’m really passionate about the concept of Taiwanese independence, and being referred to as Chinese vs Taiwanese. I’ve been fortunate to have chosen Taiwanese independence as a topic of several research papers in my college years and so I’ve done the research and pursued different academic thoughts about the concept of Taiwan being its own country. The ideals that Taiwan holds today have more similarity to the country I call home, than China.
Ultimately though, I always just come back to how it feels being in Taiwan. There is a culture there, a language, a food, and this sense of humor that makes Taiwan the country that I’m so in love with. I believe that Taiwan deserves to be recognized on the world stage as a country, filled with people who are hopeful and excited and determined for change, and who make the best food I’ve ever had.
"Taiwan as we know it was built by men and women who faced death and yet continued to voice their desire for democracy and freedom."
STEPH: Are there any thoughts that you have about being biracial? I've read some articles where a lot of biracial people voice their struggles about being "too White" but then "too Asian" when they visit their respective countries, especially when they meet both sides of the family. Or do you think it’s never really been something that's gotten in the way?
LEIGH: Yeah for sure, a lot of times I think about how my passion for Taiwanese independence and culture, etc., is some form of overcompensation because I've always felt as though Taiwanese people don't really consider me part of their own. And recently I’ve started to really listen to Asian people when they compliment me, and those cute compliments that biracial kids get are almost creepy.
"It’s like the white features that Asian people go under the knife for: double eyelids, strong noses, pale skin are beautiful on us, but people who are fully Caucasian and travel in Asia are viewed as more of an oddity."
STEPH: Have you felt that way when you visit Taiwan?
LEIGH: When I got older I always traveled with OCAC so it was a bunch of kids speaking English and it was fine. When I started traveling alone, I became intensely aware that I was taller, larger, my hair was different, etc than the people I was surrounded by. And while I consider them my people, and consider Taiwan a home, the stares I started to get made me really upset for a long time. It’s better now, and it may have just been my feelings at the time, but I just couldn’t understand why I felt at home there when it was obvious it wasn’t you know? But it’s better now, and I’m trying to be more balanced with my passion for Taiwan and my empathy for people who aren't used to people who don't look like them.
To be honest, I think I’d get less stares if I was blonde, because then it would be obvious what they were getting. When I traveled with my Asian American friend (who isn’t biracial), she didn’t like speaking Mandarin ever so they’d look at her to speak and I would be the only one able to communicate.
STEPH: What’s one thing you find that you are struggling with being a feminist?
LEIGH: So the one thing I’m really trying to come to terms with is how I feel about other biracial girls. There are half Asian girls all over and for some reason the first ones I met at this international camp I went to in Taiwan happened to be, I swear to you, French models, and there are two biracial girls at Babson that are both effortlessly cool and beautiful.
I've been telling people that I just didn’t win the biracial genetic lottery because they have the thin Asian bodies, really beautiful features, etc. and I know it’s mostly the body thing that gets to me because my mom always talks about how I’m not naturally skinny like she is, that I take after my dad, "strong German roots" as Taiwanese people say.
"But how can I call myself a feminist if I’m internally tearing down and super jealous of the girls that are perhaps the most similar to me?"