Dmae Roberts – Writer and Media Artist

Portland, OR

Taiwan has accomplished so much despite a history of occupation and without recognition by the United Nations or the World Health Organization.

roberts.dmae1Who are you?

I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, the daughter of an American serviceman from Oklahoma and Taiwanese World War Two survivor who was sold to work as a bonded servant when she was two. My family lived in Taiwan and Japan till I was eight, and we travelled around before settling in rural Oregon town where we were the only interracial family. The isolation and discrimination my family endured inspired me to become a writer and artist to make sense of the world and my racial identity. I’ve traveled throughout Asia and Europe, but still call Oregon my home. I live in Portland with my husband and twin Tabby kitties. My younger brother is the only surviving member of my immediate family though we’ve got relatives in Taiwan we recently met. I’m very involved in the arts community in Portland and believe in the power of creativity to bring peoples together.

What do you do?

I’ve dedicated the last 25 years to public radio producing documentaries and features about arts and multicultural issues that have aired on NPR programs. My radio work has garnered two Peabody awards: The first for “Mei Mei, A Daughter’s Song” a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII and the second for “Crossing East” an eight-hour documentary series about Asian American history, the first on public radio. I received the Asian American Journalists Association recognized me for Dr. Suzanne Ahn award for civil rights and social justice. I’ve been honored with a United States Artist (USA) award. I’ve also worked in theatre as an actor/playwright. My play “Picasso In The Back Seat” won the Oregon Book Award. I’m currently working on my memoir  “Lady Buddha and the Temple of Ma” about my mom, our complex relationship and my time as her caregiver during her fight with breast cancer.

Why are you proud to be of Taiwanese heritage?

As a first generation Taiwanese American, I’ve often explained Taiwan to people who still confuse it with Thailand. I’ve felt ambivalence identifying as Taiwanese rather than Asian or Multiracial Asian. Adding Taiwanese to my mixtures offered too much complexity for normal conversations. Yet I feel a kinship with this small island that has some of the most hardworking people I’ve met. Taiwan has accomplished so much despite a history of occupation and without recognition by the United Nations or the World Health Organization. Taiwan has endured and adapted and is a tremendous testament to the work ethic. I feel pride in this Taiwanese spirit through my mom’s strength and industriousness. She survived war and poverty to come to America and worked hard at a plywood mill to help support our family. By the time she retired, she owned three properties, something she was proud of till the day she died.

What does the future of Taiwanese America look like to you?

I would like to see Taiwan Americans and Taiwan receive greater recognition. The recent “Write in Taiwanese” campaign was inspiring. I’d like to see TV, film and radio programs in popular media dedicated to Taiwanese content. I’ve been writing a lot about Taiwan lately for my memoir and some of the memories I have shared shows how new this country still is to the vast American audience. I’m hoping with greater awareness in America, Taiwan won’t face occupation again and be recognized as the phenomenal independent country it is.

Any additional information you would like to share?

For more about my work go to my site… http://dmaeroberts.com

A lot of my memories of Taiwan are associated with foods I haven’t seen anywhere else in Asia or America. As a five-year-old, I remember loving hard boiled eggs simmering in a wonderful spicy soy sauce. When I went as a 20 year old, my ears perked up when the man yelling “bazan” would cry out to sell steamed sweet rice with little bits of peanuts and shrimp wrapped in banana leaves. When my mom and I went to Taiwan together we’d buy giant papaya and star fruit for breakfast every morning and dine on fresh produce and dozens of varieties of tofu products I haven’t seen in America —ever. I even love stinky tofu and thousand year old egg —yum!

roberts.dmae2

5 Responses to “Dmae Roberts – Writer and Media Artist”

  1. Catherine Stifter

    Dmae, Thanks so much for telling YOUR story after spending so many years telling the amazing stories of so many others. You are an inspiration!

  2. Dmae — congratulations on this recognition and all you do. I look forward to reading your memoir and hearing more stories.

  3. Thanks Catherine, it’s an honor to be included in this project. I hope it raises a lot more awareness about Taiwanese American heritage!

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