Home Here, Home There: The lives and Landscape within High-tech Trans-Pacific Commuter Culture

  • Shenglin Chang

Abstract

Within the last two decades the issue of 'home identity' (how a home reflects a person's identity) has been an emerging topic within contemporary intellectual discourse in fields as diverse as Asian-American studies, anthropology, cultural geography, cultural studies, literary criticism and landscape architecture. In this article, I focus on the transnational experiences of members of a newly emerging trans-Pacific commuter culture, and give special attention to describing how individual members of this group construct the relationship between self and landscape. This article reveals the complex process in which members of a newly emerging trans-Pacific commuter culture have developed new non-traditional ways of constructing the landscape/home relationship - ways that call for challenging essentialist versions of home within a rapidly changing information age. I examine how Taiwanese-born, high-tech computer engineers who relocated to Silicon Valley engage in a struggle between their old identities and their newly forming American identities. These engineers and their families - members of the 'trans-Pacific home phenomenon' that emerged in the late 1990s - have a lifestyle in which they regularly commute between their American and Taiwanese homes. The ease of global travel and instant worldwide communication that became available in the 1990s afforded the trans-Pacific commuter group ease of travel, simultaneous ownership of two homes, and led to the reinvention of the relationship between global and local within the construction of self and home. This article explores how members of the trans-Pacific commuter culture struggle to make sense between the here-and-there homes across the Pacific Rim. With evidence from 80 interviews conducted in Silicon Valley (USA), Hsinchu (Taiwan), and Shanghai and Beijing (China), I focus on the ways in which members of the global-commuter group invented new, non-essentialist ways of constructing their home-identity relationship. This article addresses how Taiwanese commuters within this trans-Pacific home phenomenon differ in comparison with previous immigrant groups who have either relinquished or replicated their home culture's landscape within a traditional one-way migration pattern. The article shows how trans-Pacific commuters have created a two-way system of migration - a "bi-gration", and how their bi-gration patterns engender a sense of "continuous staying" as they commute back and forth between their old and new homes. The sense of "continuous staying" is shown as the basis for rejecting a traditional, singular, static self in favour of a multiple, shifting sense of self, and of how this new construction of identity integrates with landscape and place across Taiwanese and American cultures.
Published
2004-12-01
Section
Short papers presented at the 2004 CELA