IMAGE CREDITS: FORMOSA
Many high school students who are of Taiwanese ethnicity spend a summer teaching English in Taiwan. Through programs such as Vox Nativa (Vox) and Connexpedition, these students have the opportunity to create connections with the native Taiwanese community. However, for Bay Area rising high school seniors and best friends, Marianne and Serena, they took their treasured memories from their summer teaching Indigenous Taiwanese children with Vox and launched a small business as a way to continue supporting the kids at Vox.
Formosa is currently on its second season, with handmade apparel such as scrunchies with distinctive fabrics and colors as well as hoodies with the Formosan Black Bear logo on the front. The project has committed its profits to Taiwan’s Vox Nativa Children’s Choir, the organization they worked with during the summer. Vox is a nonprofit choir founded in Central Taiwan to empower Indigenous Taiwanese children through educational opportunities.
Formosa is a story of service, culture, and family. I had the opportunity to speak with Verena Lin, the project’s Strategic Advisor, to learn about the story behind the business.
Vivienne: Hi Verena! I’m so excited to chat with you about Formosa.
Verena: Thank you for having me Vivienne! I’m excited as well to share more about Formosa.
Vivienne: Would you mind sharing your experiences at Vox Nativa and why it was such a transformative summer for you as well as your sister?
Verena: Yes! I actually was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States when I was 8 years old. Since I moved here, my parents have been very adamant about keeping in touch with my Taiwanese culture and languages. Beyond visiting Taiwan each year, my parents send me articles written in Chinese all the time, somehow make Western dishes like pasta taste Asian, and most importantly, tune out when I ditch Chinglish (a mixture of Chinese and English) for just English. During my first few years in the US though, I was actually more embarrassed than proud about being Asian American, as I felt as if Asian American culture (especially ten years ago) was not very popularized. Even now, I sometimes catch myself shying away from my Asian heritage without realizing.
Unlike summers spent visiting grandparents and ayis who are practically strangers, my junior summer teaching English to Vox students was the much-needed getaway from everything surrounding college applications that brought out the carefree and caring sides of me unfamiliar even to myself. Beyond the two weeks spent in Nantou’s Jade Mountain region, I was able to strengthen my connections with students who toured around the United States later that summer. From hosting them at my house to attending their concert, the opportunity brought me closer with various students who I still keep in touch with and visit.
My experience with Vox Nativa helped reframe my understanding of my Taiwanese American identity. I saw many parallels between my Taiwanese American experience with that of the Indigenous Taiwanese children. Like Taiwanese Americans, the kids at Vox are not only extremely talented artists (most of them musicians) but also ambitious students. Although both communities lack certain privileges to easily thrive in their respective communities, Vox students showed me how disadvantages and obstacles can become strengths and opportunities with the right mindset. I admire the way they embrace their distinct identity — even when it makes them stand out through qualities like skin color and open enthusiasm — and have been inspired to try to leave my own comfort zone and do the same.
Vivienne: Wow that’s awesome! I completely agree that there are a lot more connections and similarities among different Taiwanese / Taiwanese American communities that can help us all re-evaluate the way we understand our cultural identity. Shifting gears a little, the scrunchies and hoodies the Formosa Project has such cool names – Beau hoodie and the Yoru scrunchie in the Pearl collection. How did you guys choose the names for these items?
Verena: We draw inspiration from coloration and popular culture in naming each collection and item. For example, we named the most recent Pearl collection after the glossy fabric, and the dark blue Yoru scrunchie came from “yoru” meaning “night” in Japanese.
As for the Beau hoodie, the logo of the hoodie is that of a Formosan Black Bear who we named “Bobaba.” The thinking behind it was that Bobaba is humming in the patch and likes music in general, and if you look into the steps of the notes, the order goes “b” then “e” then “a”. We also thought that the hoodies have pretty, beautiful even, colors, so we tied the musical element with that of the word “beautiful” to come up with “Beau.”
Vivienne: Aw, that’s so cute! Looking forward, what are the organization’s next steps?
Verena: Actually because we are a student-run business, Formosa has significantly grown since the pandemic, as Serena and Marianne have more time to develop the project than they did when swamped by academics and extracurriculars. We’re excited to announce that we will be pushing out new products soon so look out for that!.
Unlike many other student-run businesses, Formosa has a strong backbone – Vox Nativa – that binds Vox’s mission tightly to our motivations. This is not just a one-time project but something that we plan to pursue past our years in school. In addition, because of our tight connection with Vox Nativa, we benefit a lot from the Taiwanese community through resources and connections that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We are so grateful to have a passionate group of people who have generously educated and supported us.
Fundraising for Vox Nativia is our initial mission, but we hope that Formosa can grow to become a platform to promote the intricacies of Taiwanese culture easily lost in popular culture and the day-to-day.