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Making Southeast Asian Migrant Workers Visible in Taiwanese Cinema: "Pinoy Sunday" and "Ye-Zai"

  • Author(s): Chen, Tzu-Chin Insky
  • et al.
Abstract

In Taiwan, the term for “migrant workers” (waiji yigong) refers to non-Han immigrant populations—including those from Thailand and the Philippines—whose numbers have been increasing since the 2000s. As these populations have grown, they have become part of the public conversation, and cinematic representations of migrant workers have increased as well. Immigrant films function as a form of recognition and thereby challenge the homogeneous Taiwanese national identity. Two questions arise: Is it possible to change existing stereotypes and cultural conflicts? And, how can we avoid a crisis of oversimplified presentations of immigrants? In order to address these questions, this article examines two films: Ho Wi Ding’s Pinoy Sunday (Taibei Xingqitian 台北星期天 2009), a comedy that focuses on two Filipino immigrant workers’ lives in Taipei, and Tseng Ying-ting’s Ye-Zai 椰仔 (2012), a crime film with a plot that involves tracking down “runaway migrant workers” (taopao wailao).The author employs three different lenses or paradigms to consider the establishment of migrant-worker subjects in these films in order to fully understand the power dynamics at play in the workers’ interactions with Taiwan’s broader society. Because of state and social attempts to control these migrant workers, the first important paradigm is the act of “running away,” which makes border restrictions in Taiwan clear and creates a space to explore strategies of escape from routine lives. Second, by considering how different powers intersect, the author explores the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, and how migrant workers can become the subjects, not just the objects, in this paradigm. By employing two techniques of visualization—the gaze and symbolism—these films present migrant workers’ emotions and desires, which are rarely shown in mainstream cinemas, and encourage viewers to recognize the perspectives of migrant workers. Finally, the author suggests the use of the language act as a means of resistance to show different affiliations and identities in both films; the visibility of these migrant workers challenges their discrimination. Keywords: Taiwan, Taiwanese film, waiji yigong, migrant workers, immigrant labor, Pinoy Sunday, Taibei Xingqitian, Ye-Zai, ethnoscapes, non-Han-Taiwanese identities

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