Translated and compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

According to statistics released by the Ministry of the Interior in 2015, there are close to 600,000 Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan and this figure has already surpassed the number of aboriginal population in the nation. Among these workers, Indonesians account for the highest percentage at 32.77%, Vietnamese rank second highest at 25.64%, Filipinos at 16.68% and Thais take up 8.73%.

The number of Southeast Asian workers has not only grown dramatically over the past decade, but is still increasing. This is why more and more social activists and advocates for the Southeastern Asian community are working to raise the awareness of Taiwanese people and government to pay more attention to these people.

Offering Southeast Asians in Taiwan a place that feels like home and providing them with books in Southeast Asian languages, Chang Cheng, an long-time advocate for immigrants and migrant workers from Southeast Asia, founded Brilliant Time: Southeast Asia-themed Bookstore in 2015. The bookstore is located on the Myanmar street in New Taipei City, where the Songkran Festival celebrations, a Thai holiday that celebrates the country’s traditional New Year’s Day, are held annually.

The inspiration for opening the bookstore came from an event that Chang initiated in January last year. The event, “Taking A Book That You Can’t Read Back to Taiwan,” called for any Taiwanese who went to Southeast Asian countries to bring books written in South Asian languages back to Taiwan. The purpose of the event was to provide more books from Southeast Asia for migrant workers that don’t read Mandarin.

Through the Internet campaign, the event successfully drew a great deal of attention from the public and received many books from passionate donators. The increasing number of Southeast Asian books collected prompted Chang to open a bookstore, aiming at providing a space for migrant workers to read books of their native languages and feel at home.

Chang says that the books in the store are not for sale, and can only be borrowed. Yet, different from libraries, there isn’t a return date for books checked out from Chang’s bookstore. Chang hopes that by allowing readers to read and borrow books freely and without any limitation, customers can have convenient access to a wide range of knowledge and feel the warmth of people and pleasure of reading during their visit.

Photo Credit: Brilliant Time: Southeast Asia-themed Bookstore

Photo Credit: Brilliant Time: Southeast Asia-themed Bookstore

In addition to the books, Chang has also organized a variety of activities and events in the bookstore, including lectures, reading groups and movie discussion groups, which allow Southeast Asian workers to obtain a broader array of information. Those activities also welcome Taiwanese people to join, offering them opportunities to learn about Southeast Asian cultures.

Other efforts made to support Southeast Asians

Chang has spent over a decade supporting Southeast Asians in Taiwan. He was also one of the founders of 4-Way Voice, Taiwan’s first Vietnamese newspaper.

First published in 2006, 4-Way Voice has been the main media source for Southeast Asians in Taiwan. It is a monthly newspaper that prints 24,000 copies per issue. The paper aims to “subverting the viewpoint of mainstream media which report these immigrants and labor by peeping, sympathizing and demonizing them” and offer a platform for immigrants and workers to express themselves in Vietnamese.

As 4-Way Voice gained popularity among migrant workers, the editorial team also launched other language versions of the newspaper, including Thai, Indonesian, Filipino and Cambodian.

In 2014, Chang became the producer of “Singing in Taiwan," the first Southeast Asian television singing competition in Taiwan. The show is intended to provide a platform for migrant workers to express their nostalgia through singing and music, and hopes the Taiwanese can better understand these cultures.

With limited budget, Chang does not have enough resources to build a TV studio to film the show indoors. The production team has to carry their equipment onto the streets and alleys to record the migrant workers singing.

Lin Chou-hsi, former employee of 4-Way Voice, is another avid advocate for Southeast Asian immigrants and workers. He and Chang founded SouthEastAsian Migrant Inspired (SEAMI) in Taoyuan in 2015. Like Brilliant Time, SEAMI is not only a bookstore for people to borrow books, but also a space for migrant workers in Taoyuan to gather comfortably.

Photo Credit: SouthEastAsian MigrantInspired Facebook page

Photo Credit: SouthEastAsian MigrantInspired Facebook page

Although Lin ran into multiple obstacles in the early stages of operating the store, the support and needs of migrant workers whom he cares about have motivated him to move on and continue to build the cultural connections among Southeast Asians, as well as between migrant workers and the Taiwanese.

Edited by Olivia Yang

Medianews On Line
Radio Taiwan International
Bon Phuong
Common Wealth Magazine