Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu under fire for racist remarks against Filipino migrants

The mayor questioned how citizens of Taiwan would view ‘Marias’ becoming teachers

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Han Kuo-yu speaking to reporters in 2018

Han Kuo-yu speaking to reporters in 2018 (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Following a series of contentious comments about Filipino migrants made by Kaohsiung City Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), a number of prominent personalities have hit back to highlight his discrimination.

On Wednesday, Han attended a conference with some of the island’s major industrial leaders, hoping to secure investment for Kaohsiung.

One such leader suggested the city looks to white-collar professionals in the Philippines to compensate its deficit of medium and high-skilled talent, The Storm Media reports.

Kaohsiung suffers a shortage of multilingual professionals, the individual said, and while local authorities and the central government ought to work towards improving the English proficiency of its residents, the city could also look at soliciting white-collar labor from the Philippines.

Attracting foreign talent and providing workers with a comfortable living environment to ensure they stay long term could go some way to resolving Kaohsiung’s talent deficit, he added.

In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”

“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” The Storm quotes Han.

The term ‘Maria’ is used derogatorily in Taiwan to describe migrants from the Philippines, many of whom are female domestic workers.

Han mentioned that this year, NT$47 million (US$1.5 million) has been budgeted for bilingual education, but closing the urban-rural gap is a difficult task and in this regard, Taiwan could use help from the Philippines. He then reiterated, “conflicts in the hearts of parents and city residents must be overcome,” according to The Storm.

Han began receiving backlash against his comments on Thursday. Liberty Times reports a well-known Japanese language instructor took to Facebook to air her grievances with the mayor, writing that the value of a person with professional qualifications should not be determined by their skin color or nationality.

Business Today republished a Facebook post from popular writer David Liu—a Kaohsiung native residing in Sweden—that condemns Han’s remarks. Liu wrote that not only do “Marias” have to work long hours for low salaries, but also have to face discrimination in foreign countries after leaving home to seek a better life.

Using the term “Maria” reinforces the fact that we believe these people should only do “Maria” jobs, he writes.

“If ‘Maria’ refers to those who work hard to earn money, raise families and pursue their dreams, then I am a ‘Maria’, you are a ‘Maria’, hundreds of thousands of ‘Marias’ are working to prop up Taiwan and many other countries around the world.”