A Matter of Fact: Formosan Genetic Heritage
by Mo Hawthorne
My parents have instilled in me at a very early age that I am Taiwanese. As I got older, I found myself identifying as 100% Taiwanese and 100% American. Being Taiwanese doesn’t make me less American and being American doesn’t make me less Taiwanese. I often found myself engaged in dialogue with others who didn’t know much or anything at all about Taiwan. I reasoned to these friends and acquaintances that choosing to identify with a certain ethnicity or nationality is a basic human right. No government has a right to tell me what or who I am. I thought that although genetically I am probably Han Chinese, I choose to identify at Taiwanese.
This thought process then begs the question asked by many politicians and China sympathizers: Why won’t the Taiwanese, who have a shared culture and ethnic origin with the Chinese, simply accept Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is part of China? I have never had a satisfying response to this question.
And then, at NATWA’s convention, I learned that my thought process was not grounded in fact. We were honored to hear from Dr. Marie Lin, a genetic scientist working at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taiwan. Dr. Lin’s research establishes that being Taiwanese is more than the right of self-determination, but as a matter of fact in one’s own genetic heritage. Through genetic mapping cross referencing against immigration patters, Dr. Lin has determined that the 85% of modern-day Taiwanese share at least one characteristic with either coastal aborigines or Southeast Asian islanders, like those of Polynesian descent. Dr. Lin arrived at this conclusion by studying human leukocyte antigens, maternal mitochondrial and paternal markers. Based on blood type, the Minnan and Hakka, who are two subsets of the Taiwanese people, belong to the Southeast Asian ethnology. This is markedly different from the genetic markers of northern Han Chinese.
Being able to hear Dr. Lin’s presentation has drastically changed my understanding of what it means to be Taiwanese. It is, of course, still a matter of choice who one chooses to be, Taiwanese or other. But in light of Dr. Lin’s research, it is also for many, being Taiwanese: a matter of fact.