How I Became More Involved With the Taiwanese American Community

by Nikki DePaola

When I first moved to Los Angeles three years ago, I didn’t know very many people outside of my job and a few cousins. Growing up in Kansas, I was excited to be in a place known for the best Taiwanese food outside of Taiwan, and with so many options to connect with the Taiwanese American community.

There are plenty of opportunities in LA for a young Taiwanese American woman. Organizations like TAP (Taiwanese American Professionals), TACL (Taiwanese American Citizens’ League), NATWA II (North American Taiwanese Women’s Association), and the various campus groups all provide a niche environment where you can socialize, and participate in community projects. One organization, however, is not usually mentioned in second-generation circles, and it’s probably one of the most important ones.

The Taiwan Center Foundation of Greater Los Angeles is one of the original LA nonprofits dedicated to the promotion of Taiwanese culture and heritage. It’s where many of the first generation Taiwanese organize events for the local Taiwanese American communities, including karaoke competitions, music concerts, and the LA Taiwanese American Heritage Week Festival. They host many classes and clubs, including a Folk Dance class, the Taiwan Center Choir, a Photography workshop, a Taiwanese language class, and Karaoke Club.

When I first heard about the Taiwan Center, I noticed that almost all of their activities were organized by the first generation. The first generation is an incredible group of people – they immigrated to this country for a better life, and started families here – families that are our own. We all know the sacrifices our parents made for us, to help us become who we are today, and ultimately, they were responsible for instilling our sense of Taiwanese identity. Yet, the Taiwan Center and its volunteer base is still mostly first generation. For me, giving back to the Taiwanese community is multi-faceted – we can help out in many ways, from holding leadership camps, to advocating in DC for stronger US-Taiwan Relationships. I also believe that one aspect of that is to bridge the gap between the first and second generation, to carry on the first generation’s legacy of promoting the Taiwanese heritage, and to help the Taiwan Center promote their events and activities throughout the community.

One way the Taiwan Center seeks volunteers is through its annual Miss Taiwanese American Pageant program. This pageant program is more than just a pageant – it is a year-long volunteer program, where contestants dedicate themselves to community service projects, attend cultural events, and interact with many branches of the Taiwanese community (including all the organizations I’ve mentioned above, and more), all on behalf of the Taiwan Center. The pageant component is how candidates train for their upcoming year of service. They hone their public speaking skills, learn more about Taiwanese culture, and become a role model for future generations of Taiwanese American women.

If you’re looking for a new way to give back to the community, make new friends, or want a fun way to step out of your comfort zone, I would recommend signing up for this unique opportunity. To learn more, and apply online, please visit MissTaiwaneseAmericanPageant.org. Questions can be emailed to [email protected]

Nikki DePaola grew up in Kansas, as a part of a tight-knit group of active Taiwanese Americans. Now working in Los Angeles as an advertising professional, she’s had experience collaborating with a variety of Taiwanese American cultural and political organizations, including ACT, TACL, the Formosa Foundation, and The Taiwan Center of Greater Los Angeles.

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