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dot Telling Your Own Stories: Seasonal Migrant Workers from Dalin
 

Chiayi is a major sugarcane center. In the 1960s and ‘70s, young adult women skilled at cutting sugarcanes from Dalin Township traveled across the ocean by ferry to work at Okinawa. They were short-term migrant workers harvesting tropical crops like sugarcane, spending five months annually working overseas to earn money for family expenses. In recent years, some Japanese journalists highly valued this history and came for investigation several times. Besides, the Shanglin Community Development Association, Dalin Township, Chiayi, also worked with the nearby National Chung Cheng University and Nanhua University to gather information about seasonal migrant workers through interviews.

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This year, the Shanglin Community worked with Department of Visual Arts, National Chiayi University, to organize three sessions of “Telling Your Own Stories: 1960-1970 Dalin•Okinawa Seasonal Migrant Workers Exhibition.” The students collected many everyday objects such as sickles, gloves, souvenirs, medicine, and passports on display, and made a timetable based on information collected through interviews. In addition, they created some events with the community members, for example making a picture book “My Sugarcane-Cutting Grandma,” a storytelling activity “Grandmother’s Story Box,” and an interactive activity “Write Your Heart, Sent by Me ” with an attempt to tell this rarely known history.

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According to the local literature of Okinawa Recollections on the History of Minamidaitō-son, the number of laborers from Taiwan working in the sugar industry in Okinawa reached its peak in the 1970s—around 700 people and mostly female. At the height of a labor export boom, more than 50 regular seasonal migrant workers were from Dalin, Chiayi. These grandmothers recalled taking hometown food such as sausages, salted eggs, and cooked peanuts with them while leaving for Japan, because they were afraid that Japanese dishes wouldn’t suit their tastes. Such stories were presented with narratives and installations in the exhibition, usually evoking knowing smiles.



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