Jonathan Lee – Student and Community Organizer

Chicago, IL

The future of Taiwanese America is at a turning point.

lee.jonathan1Who are you?

New Jersey has been my home for most of my life and thus is dear to my heart. Like the stereotypical Asian kid, I was dorky and “smart” throughout my years in public school. Hence, I love science fiction, video gaming, and watching dark shows/movies. In college, I was active in the Asian American community, especially the Taiwanese American community. I was President of the Rutgers Taiwanese American Student Association for two years, hosted the first Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) Conference at Rutgers in 2005, volunteered as a counselor at the Taiwanese American Foundation (TAF) summer conference for two summers, and served Taiwanese American Next Generation (TANG) summer camp in a number of capacities as my longest commitment.  Professionally, I worked in a major financial services essentially being big brother, which is probably ironic considering my political beliefs. My passions may appear myopic, but I do care about other issues such as global warming, energy security, overfishing, and healthcare.

What do you do?

Growing up in proximity to NYC, I, like most people, thought finance was the route to wealth and happiness. But, after working for several years, I realized my personality and interests weren’t a good fit for Wall Street. Like so many things in my life, I needed a reason to believe in my work. So ironically, I’m back at business school. Go figure right? Honestly, I think it’s my second chance to find out what truly interests me. So far gaming and clean energy have caught my eye. Yes I know they are two very different fields. But one I believe not only challenges the U.S., but also the world as a whole. And the other, is an addiction I can’t seem to kick. So being the shameless B-school student, if you know any job opportunities, let me know.

Why are you proud to be of Taiwanese heritage?

One fateful day, some coworkers drew missiles hitting Taiwan on a whiteboard. Before then, I wasn’t passionate. Like many I thought it was easier and less stressful to say I’m Chinese. From that day on, the Taiwanese part of my identity was born. I rigorously researched the history, listened to stories of the 1st generation, participated in Formosa Foundation, and joined the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA). What resonated with me the most was the Taiwanese will to survive. After being conquered and assimilated several times, the people were still able to keep that will of fire and sacrificed much for one of the most peaceful political transitions from authoritarian rule to a democracy in history. I go to Taiwan as often as I can, and I cannot believe how such a small island could have come so far. How such a small island could give birth to so many diverse and accomplished people.

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

The future of Taiwanese America is at a turning point. Many of the 2nd generation feel no ties to Taiwan, and naturally identify more strongly or completely with America. Many more fear the political baggage tied with being Taiwanese. Others would rather solely identify with being Asian American. Immigration from Taiwan is low and the Taiwanese American community and the immigrants in many cases do not want to integrate. Thus, we can see the sharp drop in community participation after the 1st generation. For many different reasons, there is a disproportionate interest from the 1st to the 2nd generation in maintaining a community.  I wonder though what makes our community so evanescent compared to the other immigration groups? Don’t they face the same challenges? Is it because there isn’t a strong Taiwanese identity that brings us together? I personally think there is, or at least stronger than we think. My hope is the 2nd generation will one day realize that as proven in Taiwanese history, our language and culture may change, but our historic strength as a people to persevere complements our current identities and hopefully we will want our children to have it too through a community. Else, I fear the Taiwanese American community will end up as a foot-note in an anthropologist’s thesis paper.

4 Responses to “Jonathan Lee – Student and Community Organizer”

  1. Jean W

    Hi Jon! Nice to see you being featured here :)

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