Empire’s Borders I was based on Chen Chieh-Jen’s personal existence with AIT that his U.S. nonimmigrant visa application (for an invited trip to the USA) was denied because the consular officer suspected an attempt of “illegal immigration.” Compared with Americans who can visit Taiwan without a visa, Taiwanese (and many people from non-Western countries) need to present piles of documents and financial proof if they want to visit the USA – to make sure they have no attempt of illegal immigration. Their fingerprints will also be filed for surveillance purpose, not to mention the discriminating questions raised by consular officers during the interview.
As a response to the USA’s visa policy which was as unfair as a colonial government, Chen set up an on-line blog “The Illegal Immigrant,” encouraging Taiwanese with similar experiences to write down how they had been verbally attacked and discriminated by AIT counselor officers. Meanwhile, the blog served as a communicational platform to discuss how to change the discriminating visa policy and its fundamental ideology hidden within.
Later, Chen collected messages on the blog “The Illegal Immigrant” and developed it into the video project Empire’s Borders I. The video includes two parts. The first part shows eight typical cases of Taiwanese being verbally humiliated by counselor officers and their visa applications are denied without any reason. The second part shows experiences of eight Chinese spouses who have to deal with all kinds of harsh examinations and discrimination as soon as they arrive at the immigration control at the airport.
The two sets of cases in comparison in Empire’s Borders I reflect the power structure of the world which allows the powerful states to adopt strict border-control policy to regulate people from less powerful countries. The video also criticizes the Taiwanese government that they adopt similar cold-war ideology and the policies of powerful states to treat the less powerful individuals in the region.
In the video, Chen Chieh-Jen stages the scenes to show the spaces which are always “invisible” from the public under state authority – AIT and the immigration control at the airports in Taiwan. The enclosed spaces are thus “opened up” for viewers to “see” and to “hear.” Theatre actors embody those people who wrote down their experiences of being discriminated on the blog to speak out the ridiculous interview stories at the space staged as AIT. Meanwhile, several Chinese spouses are invited to the space staged as the airport’s immigration control to share their real experiences of how they have been brutally treated by Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency. Through the actors and the real immigrants’ monologues, the video transforms the situation silenced by state authority to a conversation with viewers. It further reveals how the ruling power of the world, under the encouragement of neoliberalism and the global economic system such as WTO, allows “capital” to freely move across national borders to manipulate, exploit, and take over laborers’ surplus value and capital accumulation. Ironically, the ruling power continues to regulate, surveil, and dominate people from powerless regions in the names of anti-terrorism, New Global Order, border control, and etc. It is the truth of contemporary politics.
For Chen Chieh-Jen, the making of The Illegal Immigrant and Empire’s Borders I is not only about to unveil the “invisible” discrimination experiences suffered by endless individuals which have once silenced by state authority, to transform the undocumented individual history denied by the government into an action of “artistic imagination” as collective memory to be “seen,” to be “heard,” and to be “examined,” but also becomes part of the movement to remove the “imperial ideologyl.”
Afterword Since 1950, Taiwan has always been the dependent territory of the USA. Since the Taiwanese government allowed its citizens to visit foreign countries in 1979, Chen’s two consecutive actions – the blog “The Illegal Immigrant” in 2008 and the video work Empire’s Borders I shot in early 2009 – have become the first attempts in 30 years to unite Taiwanese to protest against AIT’s colonial visa issuing policy and to collectively document the experiences of how they are verbally humiliated as well as how their applications are denied for no reason.
Right after AIT created an official page on Facebook in the February of 2010, tons of angry people, out of their own free will, left messages complaining about the USA’s biased visa issuing policy.
In 2011, the Taiwanese government passed massive arms procurement bill and opened the market to US beef regardless of the controversy of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease) and the use of ractopamine as an additive in feeds. Meanwhile, under the US-based anti-terrorism cooperation, Taiwan accepted seven requests made the USA, including biometric passport, anti-terrorism information sharing, information connecting system, Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), and etc. On 22nd December of the same year, AIT announced that Taiwan was included in the visa-waiver program as a candidate state. On 2nd October, 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that Taiwan would acquire visa-free status starting from 1st November in the same year.
Chen believes that “even though Taiwan has been granted visa-free status by the USA, all individuals are still under its dominance through neoliberalism, New Global Order, and anti-terrorism cooperation” while “individuals are thus under the full-scale surveillance with biometric passport, anti-terrorism information sharing, information connecting system, ESTA, facial recognition system, fingerprint database, and other biometric devices.” Taiwanese, after having been dominated and regarded as “dependent,” should liberate themselves from the individual experiences of discrimination and play a more active role to collaborate with people from other regions who share similar experiences of dominance, regulation, and exclusion. Based on a more profound and extensive connection, a new strategy of liberation is expected.