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Anthology shines light on immigrant/migrant worker writers

02/13/2024 03:30 PM
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Attendees of the book launch for Grass: There is a Time to Wither and Spring, and a Time to Sprout Again, pose for a group photo, with Ririn Arumsari, one of the migrant writers at the second front right in mid-January. Photo courtesy of National Museum of Taiwan Literature Jan. 16, 2024
Attendees of the book launch for Grass: There is a Time to Wither and Spring, and a Time to Sprout Again, pose for a group photo, with Ririn Arumsari, one of the migrant writers at the second front right in mid-January. Photo courtesy of National Museum of Taiwan Literature Jan. 16, 2024

Taipei, Feb. 13 (CNA) For award-winning author Chin Nyap Fong from Indonesia, the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants was a chance to correct often negative narratives about immigrants and migrant workers in Taiwan.

"I don't want people to only think of tragedies when thinking about us," Chin said in a recent interview about her literary creation in Taiwan.

Chin's exploration of married life is one of 17 pieces featured in "Grass: There is a Time to Wither and Spring, and a Time to Sprout Again" (草-榮枯有時,復返有時), an anthology of award-winning works in the eighth edition of the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants in 2023.

Writing in the book's foreword, National Museum of Taiwan Literature (NMTL) Director Nikky Lin (林巾力) described the anthology as "opening a new chapter" in the local literature scene.

The collection was published by the NMTL and Monomyth Co., Ltd in November 2023, and Lin told a launch event in January that the plants in the book's title evoke the resilience and vitality also found among immigrants and migrant workers in Taiwan.

With her work, titled "Asah: Batu yang menjadi giok" in Indonesia, translated into Chinese as "打磨: 石也能成玉" (Polishing: Even Stone Can Turn into Jade), Chin won the Jury Award, which earned her a cash prize of NT$80,000 (US$2,555) and a trophy.

Chin, in her 40s, said she never dreamed of winning a literature award. About 20 years ago when arriving in Taiwan to work, all she wanted to do was earn enough money to pursue higher education at university in Indonesia, she told a local magazine.

The plots in her award-winning work were segments from her real life as a married woman over a decade, according to Chin, who is a temporary employee in the Chiayi County government dealing with disputes involving new immigrants.

Renowned Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), a member of the jury for the 2023 literature awards for migrants, praised Chin's work as "very impressive," as it tells stories about marriage in humorous and satirical ways.

After a two-year interval, the Taiwan Literature Awards for Migrants resumed last year, inviting migrant workers, immigrants and their children to join the competition with their own works written in Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Burmese.

Those selected for the awards shortlist were then translated into Chinese as 3,000-word pieces for the final jury.

On top of the awards is the First Prize which carries a cash prize of NT$100,000 and a trophy, as well as the Jury Award for one winner, Choice Award for three winners, and Teen Choice Award for another three.

The Top Prize winner in 2023 was Vo Thi Diem Thu from Vietnam, who wrote about a Vietnamese care worker's struggles as she grieves over her child's death, in her work titled "Ký ức hoa hồng" (玫瑰的回憶, The Memory of Roses).

Among the other 2023 winners, Vietnamese Nguyễn Nhật Huy, whose piece on human smuggling, "Thùng lạnh" (冷凍貨櫃, Refrigerated Container), was one of three selected by the award's youth jury, said he hoped his writing could help people better understand the struggles faced by migrant workers.

Nguyễn said he had been pushed to write after being haunted by a 2019 migrant smuggling case in Europe on which his piece is based.

Roniel D. Molina was another of those selected by the 2023 award's youth jury, which was made up of high school and college students.

Molina, a Filipino factory worker in New Taipei, said that the pain of leaving his children behind had given him the creative drive to write about his own relationship with his mother, "Inang" (母親, Mother).

Molina also acknowledged the practical benefits of having his work published, saying that the prize money provided welcome financial support for him and his family.

Melinda Babaran, also from the Philippines, won a Choice Award for her story "Kalayaan" (自由, Freedom) inspired by her own experiences of child sexual abuse, saying that she was pleased to receive public recognition for what had originally been a personal outpouring of emotions.

Another Choice Award winner, Indonesian Ririn Arumsari, said her piece, titled "Kisah Sepi" (孤獨的故事, A Story of Loneliness), was inspired by the motherly love she observed while working as a care worker.

Arumsari, who submitted pieces to all eight editions of Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants since 2014, said she hoped to reach more readers, adding that she aspired to write a full book in Chinese.

The anthology is available from the NMTL and a list of further retailers stocking the book is listed on their website.

(By Chiu Tsu-yin and Wu Kuan-hsien)

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