The Taste of Home: Food, Identity, and Community Among Chinese Marriage Migrants in Taiwan

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: 413
Oral Presentation
Paoyi HUANG , CUNY Graduate Center, New York
This study aims to explore the complexities of boundary-negotiation, identity, and the sense of belonging through examining foodways in cross-border marriages between Taiwanese men and Chinese women.  Analyses are based upon data collected from ethnographic research conducted in Taiwan.  Food is not only a necessity in daily life, but also a contested site where gender, class, and ethnicity intersect.  Chinese marriage migrants are often depicted as opportunistic gold diggers in the Taiwanese society.  Not only do they suffer various forms of discrimination from the general public, but even more unbearably, within their own family.  This research shows that living arrangement has a great influence on Chinese marriage migrants’ agency.  In a “three generation cohabitation” setting, the dining table becomes a battlefield between Chinese immigrant wives and their Taiwanese in-laws.  Chinese immigrant wives’ food preferences and cooking habits such as the general usage of oil, salt, MSG, and other condiments are associated with their national origin, further classified as the lack of modern knowledge and inferior.  In the name of a “healthier” diet, Taiwanese in-laws often despise Chinese marriage migrants cooking habits and ask them to adapt.  Food consumption and cooking styles not only draws a subtle ethnic line between Chinese marriage migrants and their Taiwanese in-laws, but also serve as a marker of status and class.  Facing such difficulties in the domestic sphere, Chinese marriage migrants often claim that unlike many restaurants in Taiwan, what they cook are the real “authentic” Chinese food.  They develop a nationalist discourse as a means of asserting their subjectivity and the legitimacy of being a good mother.  With limited agency in food consumption in their own household, Chinese marriage migrants, despite they come from different regions, have collective memories and establish a special bounding, a sense of belonging through food making and sharing.