New immigrant advisor to president compiles list of requests

2017/10/29 17:34:48 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Ho Thanh Nhan (胡清嫻, left)

Ho Thanh Nhan (胡清嫻, left)

By Shih Hsiu-chuan, CNA staff reporter

It's been almost a year since Vietnamese immigrant Ho Thanh Nhan (or Hu Ching-hsien, 胡清嫻) was made a presidential advisor, but even though she has not been given the opportunity to actually advise President Tsai ing-wen (蔡英文) in person on issues of concern to her fellow immigrants, she has been busy compiling a list of requests.

She is nonetheless hopeful that she will get to sit down with Tsai someday before her unpaid term ends May 19, 2018.

Hu is among a group of 56 presidential advisors Tsai named in December 2016 to help her set policies. She works as a translator and assistant to social workers at the Haohao Women's Rights Association in Pingtung County, southern Taiwan.

Born in Hau Giang, southern Vietnam, in 1980, Hu, the first new immigrant to be appointed as a presidential advisor, came to Taiwan through marriage 11 years ago and now is a mother of two.

In an Oct. 15 interview with CNA, Hu said that since she was named as a presidential advisor, she has been occupied with taking questions from her fellow new immigrants, but has had no immediate answers for them.

"Whatever they say to me, I write down so I will not forget. I also weigh up arguments for and against the ideas to judge their reasonableness," she went on. "I have to be sure that what I advise the president is reasonable."

Most issues on the list concern the rights and benefits for new immigrants and migrant workers, based on their order of urgency, Hu said.

She said that when she received a phone call asking about her willingness to take the position, she was told that she could discuss issues with Tsai.

"I thought it would have made it easier for me to convey my fellow new immigrants' thoughts to the president."

Hu said that she knows they have great expectations from her, partly because they expect the Tsai administration to be more attentive to the needs of new immigrants, given its much-touted New Southbound Policy.

Of the issues on Hu's list for Tsai, the continuing decline in inter-generational mother tongue transmission and the lack of interpretation services for foreign spouses and migrant workers are among the top ones.


Ho Thanh Nhan (胡清嫻, left)

Hu said that a high percentage of children of new immigrants cannot speak their mothers' native language.

The most important factor in transmission of language is the extent to which children are exposed to languages within the family, so it is very important that members of the extended family support the use of heritage languages, Hu said.

"The thing is that not everyone has that support," Hu said, citing herself as an example. "Due to the negative attitudes my husband's extended family had toward me speaking Vietnamese, I couldn't really teach my first child Vietnamese in his early childhood. Their attitudes have changed now, but my son is 10 years old."

With the introduction of seven Southeast Asian languages into the K-12 curriculum, set to begin in the fall semester of 2018, elementary school students, who are currently required to study a native language -- either Holo, Hakka or an indigenous tongue -- can opt to learn one of seven Southeast Asian languages, either Vietnamese, Indonesian, Myanmarese, Cambodian, Tagalog, Malaysian or Thai. The idea of launching the program has been well-received by new immigrants.

Lin Hsin-jung (林炘蓉), a 9th grade student born to Taiwanese father and Thai mother in Taiwan, said she is grateful that she has grown up bilingual at home at a time when she could not receive formal education in Thai language at school.

"It's not easy to learn Thai when there aren't many chances for practice, but it certainly pays off. It strengthens my connection with Thai culture. It makes my travel to Thailand much smoother," Lin said.

Hu commended the program, but expressed concern that a lack of qualified teachers could negatively impact the quality of teaching.

The government should provide teacher training programs for new immigrants instead of planning to recruit teachers from those countries, Hu said. "We know Taiwan's culture and customs and how to get along well with our kids."

Hu suggested that the government devote more resources to new immigrants and second-generation immigrants to harness talent, because "we can be bridges between Taiwan and the countries targeted by the New Southbound Policy," Hu said. 1061029

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