Once called ‘the devil,’ cleft lip girl sings her way onto Taipei Universiade stage

Atayal girl Tseng Yu-chen (曾宇辰) has undergone a di...

Atayal girl Tseng Yu-chen (曾宇辰) has undergone a di... (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—A Taiwanese indigenous girl, born with serious cleft lip and cleft palate, came a long way to be selected as the singer of Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade theme song, “Embrace the World with You.” Atayal girl Tseng Yu-chen (曾宇辰) has undergone a different kind of growing pains that came in the forms of jeers, being called “the devil," verbal attacks and isolation as she grew up due to the birth defect.

On Monday Tseng shared her story of how she had been a target of scoff and discrimination since she was born and how she dealt with it at a press conference for the exhibition “Don’t Tag Me!” organized by the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation. Her parents also came from their tribe in Jianshih Township, Hsinchu County to show their support for their daughter.

Tseng, 27, told reporters that she was born with serious cleft lip and cleft palate and had to undergo a major surgery when she was only four months old. The birth defect was so serious that it extended all the way to her left eye. As her left eye was underdeveloped at birth, she is now wearing an artificial one. To date, she has undergone more than 20 facial plastic surgeries. Fortunately, her parents have treated her as if she were normal, and told her to work harder and be more independent to make up for the disadvantage.

Tseng’s parents said they were shocked to see how their newborn baby looked like, adding that she was the first cleft lip and palate case in their village. Tseng said her parents have been very brave to raise her as they had been faced with the criticism that they must have done something wrong to have such a baby.

Tseng had been well protected by her parents until when she was attending kindergarten. She said that one day she went shopping with her mother and a child of her age pointed at her and said: “That person looks like the devil.”

The Atayal girl said her world began to crumble from that day because she began to realize that she was very different from others. She recalled, “I experienced a numbing sensation from toe to head upon hearing that comment, and began to feel very sad at the thought I was the devil in the eyes of others.” However, her parents always told her not to cower because she was no different from other kids and didn’t do anything wrong.

Tseng said that during her junior and senior high school days, exclusion by classmates, jeers and name-callings were a part of her everyday life, but her mother taught her not to scold back at moments like these and should instead give them a big smile. When they don’t feel entertained by bullying you, they will give up, Tseng said of her mother’s theory.

The Atayal girl has been fond of singing since she was small, and her father often took her along to one of coin operated Karaoke machines in public places for a singing spree. Having competed at many singing competitions, she is now dedicated to building a singing career.

Tseng’s father said he was worried about a singing career would subject her daughter to more discrimination and frustration. He added that his attitude began to change as he saw his daughter becoming more determined as she experienced more setbacks. He said it’s unbelievable to see her set foot on the Universiade performing stage.

Tseng and her parents

The “Don’t Tag Me!” exhibition features VR that tells about the story of exclusion by peers and feeling of isolation experienced by people with craniofacial disorders, and the protagonist of the video is Tseng, who had tearful eyes after the video was played in the press conference.

The exhibition runs from August 5 to August 12 at the Warehouse No.4, Songshan Cultural & Creative Park, and the admission is free. The exhibition time is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.