Cornell University Press

Ken Sun on Taiwanese Immigration in the United States

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We asked author Ken Sun three questions about his new book, Time and Migration, and his conclusions of longitudinal ethnographic studies on migration.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

Mrs. Chin lived in the US for more than three decades. Having lost much of her mobility after her unsuccessful surgery in the United States, she decided to move back to Taiwan, where she could afford to hire domestic workers and live in a well-equipped assisted-living facility. She indicated that her decision to relocate to Taiwan was in part an effort to relieve her children of the competing demands of paid work and eldercare.

I asked her how she felt about being thousands of miles away from her children. She said that she was fine but felt sorry for the elderly in the US; when they were too sick to stay self-sufficient, most of them could not return to the homeland where affordable personal and medical care is available. Her comments, to me, point to the steep inequalities with which many aging individuals—migrants and nonmigrants—are struggling in the US and transnationally.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

When I entered the field, I wanted to explore how homeland traditions shape the ways older immigrants negotiate their later life transitions. Oriented by my understanding of Chinese/Taiwanese cultural orientations, I expected to hear a lot of intergenerational conflicts in immigrant families. However, I was surprised to find that the majority of my respondents are adapting to what they perceive as the American cultural landscape. Then, I realize that “becoming American” is actually a lifelong project for my respondents, since they spent many or most of their working years living, working, and raising families in the United States. And they are the parents and grandparents of “Americans” no matter how much they agree with what they perceive as the mainstream US culture.

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study?

I hope that my book can motivate scholars of migration, aging, and families to incorporate time into their analyses. First, my book seeks to offer insights into the long-term consequences of immigration. How, for example, does the passage of time change or complicate immigrants’ experiences? What happens to “newcomers” who spend several decades living in a place that might no longer be “foreign”? How do they feel about experiencing life transitions, transnationally, in an adopted country?

Second, a focus on older, long-term immigrants also pushes us to rethink their connections to their homelands. For these immigrants, homelands may well have become drastically different since they left. How, then, do they feel about these developments? How do they rethink the decision to migrate and the possibilities for returning to an evolving homeland? Answering these questions helps us foreground time/temporalities in the studies of immigration, the life course, and social inequalities. 

*Featured Image: Taipei City, Taiwan. Credit: Thomas Tucker.

Ken Chih-Yan Sun is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Villanova University.

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