Reflecting on the Taiwanese American Citizens League’s 25 Year History and Legacy

by Erica Ling

On a recent summer’s night, over 300 members of the Taiwanese community gathered to celebrate the 25th birthday of the Taiwanese American Citizens League (TACL). At the request of Ben Ling (TACL National President), who had been working tirelessly in directing the entire event, several mentors, interns, and board members arrived early to help set up. As we walked through the doors of Café Pinot, it was clear that the hustle and bustle of preparation was well underway (and didn’t stop until the salad course had been served). The venue was absolutely breathtaking: tables covered in white-linen cloth with flower candle centerpieces, a fun photo booth, several bar areas and auction tables, all encompassed in a courtyard surrounded by perfectly manicured trees and flowing fountains. On one side near the DJ booth, Teddy Liaw (TAP Chairman of the Board), practiced and reviewed his emcee notes for the night. Former TACL-LA chapter President Karen Chang directed volunteers, seated guests, and manned the check-in table. Newly-elected TAP President Connie Hwang and TAP Treasurer Yingka Chou coordinated last-minute logistics, decorations, and entertainment. Clearly, this event was a joint community effort!

Suffice to say, the gala/casino night was a huge success, held against the backdrop of the glittering lights and skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles. Along with delicious food and amazing entertainment, the night culminated with the presentation of TACL’s 2010 honorees: civil rights lawyer Karin Wang, and President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors David Chiu. As both community leaders fondly recounted their beginnings and connections with TACL, the flurried busyness prior to the event subsided into a feeling of peace and contentment. While everyone joined in reminiscing TACL’s twenty five years of existence, we were also giving thanks to the organization that had brought us all together. This was a testament to the beauty and resilience of our Taiwanese community. This was a night to share and celebrate with friends old and new. This was TACL’s night.

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Founded in 1985 in Los Angeles, California, by several first generation Taiwanese community leaders, TACL is one of the largest and oldest Taiwanese organizations in the country. For young Taiwanese Americans, TACL offers opportunities for involvement and development through its various youth and internship programs. I myself was part of the Political Internship program in the summer of 2009, where I interned at Senator Barbara Boxer’s Los Angeles office. It was an incredible experience to be a part of, and I learned so much from my internship and from the networking events TACL hooked us up with (and it was pretty cool to have Jay Chen as my mentor!) This summer, TACL also brought back the Entertainment Internship program, where interns learn film production skills and are placed at various offices of entertainment groups in Los Angeles. For high school and middle school students, TACL has summer camps in northern California (TACL-LYF) and southern California (TACL-LID), as well as a Journalism Internship program, and a scholarship award for graduating high school seniors. TACL even offers networking opportunities for young professionals, through its Taiwanese American Professionals (TAP) group.

Whew. That was a lot to cover! But in a nutshell, TACL is the source for any young Taiwanese American looking to get involved and gain experience and leadership.

In fact, current TACL National President Ben Ling refers to himself as a “product” of the TACL programs, having first attended LID camp as a youngster, and then becoming a TACL political intern at Congressman Howard Berman’s office in Washington DC. Now, as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch during the day and Taiwanese American community leader by night and on weekends, Ben is known to possess both superhuman community skills and Wang Leehom’s good looks (and no, he and I aren’t related, but we like to tell people that we’re cousins!)

Yet in a humbling show of Taiwanese modesty, Ben is also quick to attribute the successes of TACL to the predecessors that came before him. We at couldn’t agree more: the success of TACL and the Taiwanese community over the past 25 years have been a result of hard work by all of its committed and passionate leaders. Past second generation TACL leaders such as Peter Chang, Teddy Liaw, Rob Liu, Richard Wang, Victoria Tseng, and Elsa Chen were instrumental in shaping and developing TACL’s programs. They ensured the sustainability and transition of TACL as an organization that is now completely run by second generation Taiwanese Americans.

During our extended three-hour lunch, Ben also emphasized that in addition to the youth programs, TACL has also represented the Taiwanese community at the national level, through both good times and bad. When former TACL LID camper Kenny Chiu was brutally murdered in a vicious hate crime, TACL stood behind then-Assembly Member Judy Chu in passing Kenny’s Law. The law, enacted in 2004, gave greater protection to hate crime victims and their families by requiring courts to issue a protective order. TACL rallied support from various ethnic, religious, and human rights groups to represent the resolve of the Taiwanese community in standing up against such injustices.

Through representation, TACL also partnered with the U.S. Census in 1990 and 2000 to ensure an accurate count of all Taiwanese people living in the United States. This year, as TACL National President, Ben oversaw the Census 2010 project, in which TACL partnered with and Slideshow Pictures to create and promote the “Census 2010: Write in Taiwanese” campaign. The PSA featured well-known Taiwanese American politicians and entertainers, as well as Taiwanese American students, parents, grandparents from all walks of life. It was important to Ben especially, because “being Taiwanese means always saying you’re Taiwanese. It’s a gradual process, and as we work harder to be recognized, it translates into a passion for using TACL to assert that identity.” The PSA went viral on YouTube and has since garnered over 200,000 views and plenty of attention within the media. It truly represents not only the diversity of the Taiwanese American community, but also the unity and importance of being recognized as Taiwanese.

produced by Slideshow Pictures

With its camps, programs, and advocacy projects, TACL has undoubtedly impacted and shaped the lives of hundreds of Taiwanese Americans, many of whom are now giving back to the community as well. Ben, for example, found it rewarding to see the results of people connecting and building a community in which they formed lifelong friendships. And even with accomplishing so much in the last twenty five years, TACL is not done yet. It continues to evolve with the times, developing and innovating newer programs for the community and maintaining its relevancy to current issues. What’s in store for TACL for the next twenty-five years? Ben hopes for a more united community, and “it is up to the second generation to propel that.” He is confident that programs, such as TACL’s Political internship program, will come full circle, and that it’s “not a matter of if, but when” TACL will be able to send new interns to the political offices of former interns.

When asked how different he thinks his life would have been had he not remained involved in TACL, Ben stops for a moment at a complete loss for words. Finally, he chuckles and says, “I can’t imagine my life without being involved in the Taiwanese American community. It’s become a big part of me and it always will be.”

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