I grew up on a small island called Kinmen, where the last battle between Taiwan and China took place in 1958. My childhood was informed by a military presence, stories about hiding in bomb shelters, propaganda leaflets scattered in the air and misfortunes that happened to friends and family. Bonded over trauma, Kinmenese strived to make the most out of life. I witnessed the healing and transformative power of human connection.
Ask any Kinmenese about the fog season, you’d hear a common thread running through our lives. Someitmes a whiteout fog blanketed the entire island, reducing the visibility to nothing. The walls of our houses would “sweat” for weeks. Most of our basic necessities were transported from mainland Taiwan. During the fog season, it was common to hear shop owners respond that something was still out of stock because there were no ferries or flights. Living circumstances here enabled me to develop comfort with unpredictable changes in life without becoming attached to unhelpful thoughts or emotions. I learned that we could always choose how to respond to mitigate the suffering and maintain equanimity.
I ventured to Taipei for college and then my desire to have more opportunities brought me to the U.S. for graduate studies. I broadened my worldview and understanding of the diversity of human experiences over the years. My journey empowered me to make meaningful connection to my experiences as an Asian immigrant woman, and use my personal experiences to guide professional pursuit. Working through my internalized, gender-based limiting beliefs (e.g., “not taking up too much space”, “walking silently among others in the world”), I became very passionate about women’s issues and the intersection between gender and other identities of race, nationality and sexual orientation.
I earned my Ph.D. from Columbia University where I was immersed in multicultural psychology and different schools of psychotherapy theory and practice. I worked with internationals and first-generation Americans who grappled with integrating different cultural expectations and experiences in their relationships and at work. My curiosity about race, gender, and body image development informed the topic of my research and clinical specialty.
Last year, I talked about Kinmen during a conference when the theme “home” came up. The audience was surprised by my conflicting relationship with beaches– shoreline is an inseparable part of my islander identity and it also indicated danger in my childhood. I shared with them that, over the years, with the removal of mines and military, people now can really enjoy the beach. Unlike older family members, my nieces don’t have any association with war and loss. They often run around on the beach, displaying pure happiness. As the story unfolded, we felt a sense of connectedness and openness. Those are feelings that fuel my work in helping clients tell their stories and remove barriers to a fulfilling life.