Written by Dr. Donald C.J. Chen
As an ambitious young Formosa in the early 1950s, I had tried to settle down, wishing for a successful future in this great country, known as a land of “opportunity and justice＂. In reality, the political power and personal fate had created various obstacles to affect my entire professional career as a physician. I was among a handful of physicians who had made various adventures and struggles to survive as “The First Taiwanese Immigrants＂ at that early period. The sole purpose of my long and hard life had been to give our “second Generations＂ a chance to freely and efficiently work to prepare for their stable and successful lives in this great competitive democratic society, without having to go through hardship as their parents had suffered for many decades.
1) Practicing Old Traditional Taiwanese Culture
I was born in the late 1920s and grown up in a neighborhood about six miles east of the city of Taipei, typical urban area. My family was a non-Christian, although we lived right next door to a church call Siong-San Church. As a child while playing outside on Sundays, I used to press my face against the iron grid fence of the church and watch a parade of well-dressed rich people going up the steps into the church every Sunday morning. I didn´t know what was going on inside and thought it was an exclusive club for the rich people. I often wondered what was in store under the tall steeple and often wanted to sneak in just for a look. I have heard those church songs coming out of the church for so many years that I could sing every one of them. Until this day, they are my favorite music I would listen to. I didn´t realize that anybody, rich or poor, could join the church until I was in college when my Christian friends invited me to join some activities at the church.
As a child, like any of our neighborhood children, I used to run around daily with barefoot, playing Chinese trump cards of twelve animals, marbles, chess etc., with children of laborers and coalminers, shouting with typical Taiwanese obscene languages frequently as the games went on. Sometimes drawing graphic marks for playing games on the street surface where rarely any automobile passing by. Frequently I watched Taiwanese puppet shows and Chinese operas. Occasionally, following the traditional fashions, I had joined “pai-pai＂ festivals, holding Chinese scents, worshiping “Budda＂ in the same manner as our parents and our neighbors did.
The colonial Japanese government seemed to have no objection against such traditional Taiwanese religious practice.
2) Integrated into Colonial Japanese Society
My parents were both elementary school teachers for more than 20 years, promoting Japanese language and culture, mostly in the school only, practicing double living styles of both Japanese and Taiwanese at home. As I was growing up, my parents had tried to integrate our family into Japanese society gradually, which had been expected. The native Taiwanese had believed that such practice is the only way to be successful professionally, as second citizens, under the Japanese colonial dictatorial administration. At the age of six, I was sent to the best Japanese grade school in Taipei, after passing the examination only required for Taiwanese. During the first month, I was accompanied by a young guide, taking a bus or train to commute for six miles to the school. Only 5% of the pupils were native Taiwanese, who had been clearly identifiable by their Chinese names. Racial discrimination by teachers and classmates had been frequent occurrences. I soon had accepted such events as a routine life style for native Taiwanese students. I had received racial slurs, insults or even physical attacks sometimes. By encouragements from my parents, I have studied and worked harder than my Japanese classmates. Six years later I was able to enter the best middle school (in the old Japanese system), competing with native applicants to pass the entrance examination. Based on unlawful and unwritten quota, only about 5% of total numbers were available for the native Taiwanese. I have been told that to be successful in the colonial society, the best profession would be physician or attorney. To achieve this goal, one must study very hard not only to compete with Japanese but also the native students, because of limited quota available for the Taiwanese. During my 7th grade in the middle school, before the World War II broke out, in order to partially avoid the on-going racial discrimination and also to practice quasi Japanese style of living, our entire family had to change our names to those of Japanese type of names, in the same way as many of our friends had done. Under military dictatorship, military training was included in a mandatory credit through entire middle school curriculum. I was forced to practice the old Japanese military manners throughout entire school life. During my 9th grade in the school, I had to carry an old Japanese rifle that was taller than my height. Following my 10th grade, it had been particularly difficult to enter the special high school in the old Japanese system, which had been the only one, existed in the whole Taiwan, and only a handful of natives could enter. I was lucky enough to pass the examination. Its curriculum was set for Pre-Med course, and German language was selected as the first foreign language. After two years of the study, those students were allowed to enter Taipei Imperial University, Department of Medicine. Soon after the beginning of this high school, the entire school had been drafted to a military camp to join the lowest rank of Japanese Infantry soldiers. As a Japanese soldier I had to stay inside of the Formosan Island. I had experienced the well-known, very strict Japanese Military life, for nearly one year, which was the last year of the World War II. Although there had been little racial discrimination in the military camp, corporal punishment by the officers had been experienced very frequently. I had been gradually brainwashed not to fear of death, by way of honoring Japanese Emperor.
3) Entering U.S.A.
After the War, I graduated from National Taiwan University (the name has been changed from Taipei Imperial University). The living style suddenly modified by the Chinese mainlanders, who mostly were former Chinese soldiers, who had a different cultural background from the traditional Taiwanese. During the first several years, political and revolutionary type of discrimination from mainlanders had been encountered. During these transitional periods, most professors in the medical school taught in Japanese, using German terminology frequently. I had worked for three years in Taiwan University Hospital. I had a great desire to study the most advanced medicine in the States, as well as to escape from the political and social discriminatory environment by Chinese mainlanders. In July 1954, I entered the United States, by way of working in a famous University Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, through the recommendation of my professor. In this modern and free country, though I had a prestigious title as a physician from the University, racial discrimination against a Chinese Doctor had occurred frequently. At one time I was refused entrance to a swimming pool, while my Caucasian colleagues were able to enter, just because I was a Chinese. During that period, it was uneasy to be accepted for a good employment as a Chinese. By working in various hospitals in the States, for a period of five and a half years, I had gradually adjusted to the American customs. At the end of 1959, after various appeals had been exhausted, extension of my visa had been denied. Furthermore, the government in Taiwan had refused my staying abroad, based on having no sufficient reason to stay out of Taiwan. Both American and Chinese governments had refused to support my legal status. At that time while I was desperately searching for a place to stay even temporarily, my Brazilian colleague had invited me to return to northern Brazil with him.
4) Living in Brazil, Encountering South American Culture
Even without proof of my nationality, by a special arrangement, Brazilian government allowed me to reside in Brazil indefinitely. In early January, 1960, I entered Brazil, the largest country of South America. As a single man, my colleague had offered me to stay with his family in Belem, where he had started a private medical practice. Belem is a large city located at the entrance of the world´s largest jungle, “Amazon＂. During the World War II, Belem had served as U.S. Air Force base to attack African continent. I had worked as an employee of my colleague, performing one operation per week with office hour of only 4 pm to 6 pm. I had applied the most advanced medical knowledge and skill which I had acquired in U.S. Soon I became well known as a Chinese Doctor in Belem who was the only Chinese resided in the city. There, I was able to receive mails just addressed to Belem, Para, Brazil, without putting the street address. Instead of racial discrimination, the public respected me as a famous Chinese Doctor. Gradually I had adjusted to a strange South American life style, particularly “Brazilian＂ type of sluggish living. According to their philosophy, people were born to enjoy their lives, and not to struggle to advance the civilization. No matter how poor they may be in comparison to other rich and industrialized countries, for them, the personal well-being comes first and hard work comes second. Since nature provides everything needed for a good living, they did not worry or exert themselves. Although financially unfavorable, I had enjoyed the tranquil living style of “Brazil＂. I had been advised to put roots down in Brazil but I soon realized that the land was not for an ambitious hard working Chinese. Not willing to stay, yet unable to leave the country, I became discouraged and depressed. What saved me from insanity was a God´s servant, a Seventhday Advantist missionary I met, who invited me to study Bible with him frequently. It occurred to me that when you are thirsty you want to drink a lot. And I was thirsty spiritually and I took comfort in reading a lot of Bible. Shortly after I had become a naturalized Brazilian Citizen, I planned to return to North America, after wasting nearly five years of a period of “status quo＂ as far as an academic medical professional life was concerned.
5) Re-entry to U.S.A., Lucky Enough to Settle Down
On planning to return to the States in October, 1964, I had found that as a single Chinese physician, it would be almost impossible to become an immigrant, but easier to apply to enter by way of Canada. I eventually entered the States for the second time as a Brazilian tourist, but was still classified as a Chinese according to the U. S. Immigration to attend the academic meeting. In Princeton, N.J., I visited my brothers and my colleagues from Taiwan. By an introduction from my colleague, I met a multi-talented Taiwanese girl, who originally came from my neighbor in Taipei, with whom subsequently I got married. I had been lucky enough to be able to remain in the States indefinitely. We found out later that my wife´s maternal grandparents lived in a mansion on the other side of the church and they contributed a great deal in building the church. Although I hadn´t found God yet in my heart, He has found me and guided me through out my life. Although I had not been approached officially to be a church member, I feel I have know Him through his music and Bible readings all my life. Following completion of one year rotating Internship at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, in January, 1967, 16 years after graduating from National Taiwan University, for the first time, I was able to obtain Medical License from the State of Maryland and Washington D.C. During the first few years of my private practice of E.N.T., I had to work in the local hospitals as a part-time surgical assistant to support my private office. Assisted by my multitalented wife who not only supported my medical practice she also helped many relatives and friends to enter the States to settle and to establish their careers. Our family also has raised four children among them three holding double degrees of M.D. (M.D., M.B.A.; M.D., Ph.D.; M.D., J.D.) Our second child has been a great top comic illustrator of Marvel Comic Co. who is an unique artist holding a degree from prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. When my children were baptized by my wife´s cousin, Rev. Dr. David Chen in New Jersey, I joined them and been baptized at the same time. I was proud to say that our Taiwanese Presbyterian Church started in our house 30 some years ago when my father-in-law Rev. L.S. Shaw visited us. We had Sunday service in our house for six months before relocation. Although life had been a struggle, I feel the blessing of God through out every turn of my venture. Although at times it is frustrating that life is not going the way you desired, but God has His own plan and in the end, He had made everything come out even more than you have ever hoped for.
At this retiring stage of our lives, it is our greatest wish that all of our children will use what God has endowed them, to benefit others and to serve our society in the best way they can. It is always in our prayers that God will lead them every step of the way and that someday they will open their heart to truly accept Jesus as their savior and their Guiding Light. We are forever grateful that He is with us through out our lives. We experienced His Love and Blessings in every turn of our lives.