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In Session: Boundaries as Sites of Resistance and Resilience: Part 2 Reshaping Public Sphere for and by Women
1: Fishers, Captives, and Storytellers in Taiwan's Multinational Fishing Industry
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
New York University Shanghai, China (People's Republic)
This project investigates the dynamic between space, mobility, and gendered labor in recent publications from Taiwan about multinational fishermen, particularly after a string of news transpired since 2013 about violence on the Taiwanese fishing boats. Many such activist-driven narratives forefront the experiences of distantly-hired Southeast Asian migrant fishermen toiling on the open-yet-restrictive boat space and expose how fishers become captives under a horrendous labor system. Central to these narratives are not just the figure of disenfranchised working men surviving on boats that project dreams and nightmares, but also a cast of local activist women and storytellers who recount these narratives of (im)mobility at sea from distinctly gendered perspectives. At the heart of the intricate relationship between migrant fishermen, storytellers, activists, and Taiwan’s growing multicultural readership is how writings as such navigate the stakes of translatability and social activism.
I analyze the narrative forms in recent stories by Taiwan International Workers Association and former photo-journalist Li Ah-Ming. Framing my discussion around questions of legal accountability and sociocultural translatability, I spotlight how these storytellers travel to foreign places to bear witness and seek truth, and how in portraying their migrant interlocutors, many come off as purposefully self-deprecating: some stories feature women activists writing about their own ignorance, and others turn to depicting the fishermen’s heteronormative familial and marital lives. Traversing genres and spaces between home and abroad, and between land and sea, these stories imagine Southeast Asian working men in curious-yet-troubling ways to activate public debate about justice, rights, and equity.