Who would have thought that the same terrified toddler who, at the time, said to herself, “What is this giant colorful monster? Get it away from me!” is the same person that leads Audubon’s visual storytelling? As Christine Lin, social media producer for Audubon, puts it, this journey is connected to her relationship with the land and her identity.
Her earliest recollections of an interest in nature are the family road trips to local and state parks. Vacations would be filled with picturesque views of Texas landscapes and encounters with wildlife. Memories like these are cherished ones, though she also recalls some less cheerful moments. Growing up as a first generation Taiwanese American in Dallas, Texas, lunches at school and summer camps would sometimes go down like an episode of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat.
That feeling even extended to her favorite television programs. As a young science enthusiast, Christine’s first loves were outer space and the Discovery Channel. While immersing herself in nature documentaries and wildlife shows she noticed that these scientists, naturalists, and hosts had one thing in common: they did not look like her. Suppressing her Taiwanese roots and heritage was a means to ‘fit in’ – a feeling many Asian-American kids know all too well.
“Growing up, I spoke Mandarin with my parents, but never felt fully comfortable doing so in public spaces. Even today, and especially in the time we’re in now, I fear the consequences that go beyond just passive judgment. This instinct is ironic since indigenous people in Taiwan are discouraged to speak their native language in favor of Mandarin Chinese. I reflected on that during my trip to Taiwan.”
That trip was all the more meaningful because she had not been able to revisit her family’s native land until adulthood. In addition to visiting her grandfather at the hospital, Christine hoped that this voyage would bring a deeper appreciation of her grandmother’s Amis roots. The Amis (or “The North” in English) are the largest ethnic group among aboriginal Taiwanese people and a matrilineal indigenous society. Though she would always wear her Amis heritage as a badge of honor, Christine admittingly knew nothing about the island and indigenous experience.
Upon arriving in Hualien, Taiwan, Christine realized that the pride she felt was not reflected in the world her Amis relatives lived in. Their feelings were more in line with the aspiring naturalist or the kid just trying to fit in at school.
During her time in Hualien, Christine worked on a short documentary. In addition to asking for her grandma’s story as well as other Amis people for accounts, Christine ‘lived the Amis way of life’ – she helped her grandmother sell vegetables at a local market, participated in traditional Amis dances, learned archery using her uncle’s handmade bow-and-arrow, foraged wild plants with Amis elders, and visited a traditional Amis wood carving site. These practices as well as listening as a form of slowly digesting her roots led Christine to a profound light-bulb moment.
“Though my grandma and I are two oceans apart, we share more than just our birthdays,” says Christine. “We grew up and live in societies that are foreign to our families, in societies that confuse assimilation with acceptance.”
The trip to Taiwan and reconnecting with her grandmother brought a realization: if she wanted peace with herself and her identity she needed to also pay respects to her ancestors. Christine credits the embracing of all of her identities to this trip and also moving to New York—joining Audubon was a huge part of that process.
“When I started at Audubon there were no affinity groups and we did not celebrate heritage months. Now we have multiple affinity groups and celebrations throughout the year,” says Christine. “I am a queer Asian American woman and I don’t take it for granted that these identities are celebrated here, since that is not the norm at every organization. I know there’s still a lot to be done, but if my work and journey can help inspire even one young budding conservationist or storyteller, I’ll feel that much more fulfilled.”