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Black Community Thrives in Taiwan

Posted Aug 26 2010

Although it's premature to call Taipei the next Black mecca, there's no question that the residents of African descent in this Asian economic powerhouse are contributing to a vibrant lifestyle.

This article appeared in the August 20th, 2010 edition of The Oakland Post newspaper.

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Although it's premature to call Taipei the next Black mecca, there's no question that the residents of African descent in this Asian economic powerhouse are contributing to a vibrant lifestyle. Their reasons for coming are varied, although economics is a driving force for many. Others cite a sense of adventure or a relationship, while a growing number are coming over on academic scholarship. Most only stay for a predetermined period of time, but others have chosen to create more permanent lives, with the bulk having come within the past 15 years.

 

Estimates for the island's Black population are small, ranging in the hundreds, out of an overall population of over 23 million. It draws from a wide range of countries, including Haiti, Senegal, Togo, and the United States. While there are more established Black communities in countries such as China, which includes at least one "chocolate city," Taiwan has its own appeal.

 

Oliver Harley, a Jamaican national, came with the intent of setting up a record label and promotions company to push reggae music. Eight years later, the company is still going strong, promoting shows and recording both foreign and local acts under the O-Brothaz moniker. “There’s not really too much of a Caribbean music scene here so why not?” Harley’s ventures have grown to include co-founding an entertainment website, as well as a ticketing company.

 

As Taiwan joined the ranks of Asian countries heavily investing in Africa, many Africans began immigrating. Shaibu Hasamu, a native of Ghana, splits time in his home country and Taiwan, importing and exporting goods. In effort to promote African culture, he’s also a lead musician in the Pan-Africana music troupe. His wife Kathy, a Taiwanese local, manages the group.

 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges. Ghanaian Oliver Ghana, a businessman and Taiwanese resident for more two decades, can cite countless tales of discrimination and harassment from officials. He cautions countrymen about coming to Taiwan with rose-colored glasses as they often cite his life as what’s possible, including marrying a local and having a son successfully compete in Taiwanese schools. Yet a common theme amongst those interviewed was that racism was hardly unique to Taiwan and thus not enough of a factor to leave. According to American Warren Fox, “the things I’ve run into have been related to ignorance, whereas the issues I’ve run into in the States have been related to hatred so here it’s easier to deal with.  I say a word or two in Chinese and that changes (their) perspective.” Fox has been able to carve himself a niche as a martial arts instructor and hip hop performer, appearing in movies and commercials, as well as performing with high profile American acts such as Ciara.

 

Another hurdle, particularly for women, is hair care. “There are no hair care products for black hair,” said American Elissa Russell, who often relied on international students who also doubled as stylists. Nearly a decade ago Russell created a group, Descendents of African People, to help address issues such as these, but which also included activities such as Juneteenth celebrations and dialogues. 

In spite of these challenges, Taiwan became home. Asked how she’d rate living in Taiwan on a scale of 1-10, Russell gave it a 9. “I wouldn’t trade the experience!”

Comments

1. Lillian said at August 27, 2010 2:42 pm:

Where are the "chocolate cities" in China? Also, did most of your interviewees learn Chinese once they moved to Taiwan? Or have they been fine without it?

2. defprofessor said at August 27, 2010 11:17 pm:

I LOVE THIS! I can't wait to share with my mom!

3. Daniel said at August 31, 2010 11:19 pm:

@D: Thanks! @L: I'm familiar with Guangzhou. I'd like to visit at some point. Unfortunately, most of what I've read about are related to the tensions there. Most of the interviewees spoke a fair amount of Chinese, although a few were at survival level. At least one was fluent before he came, taking classes in the U.S. and in China.

4. mango07 said at April 2, 2013 11:52 am:

inspiring article

5. MANGO07 said at April 2, 2013 12:14 pm:

TO.MR OLIVER HARLEY KEEP IT UP!MORE SUCCESS TO COME...

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