Last year, I received a grant from the St. Anthony Educational Foundation to investigate boba and politics. After many desserts, interviews, and drafts, my reflections on authenticity, the validity of boba pizza, and identity found a home at Taiwanese American.

But in Taiwan, where I’ve spent a large part of the coronavirus pandemic, boba is not imbued with the same layers of meaning as it is in Asian American communities and Western news coverage. When I asked my friends there about boba’s political symbolism, they had no idea what I was talking about. To them, boba is just boba.

That is no surprise to John Chung-En Liu, a sociology professor at National Taiwan University who has done extensive research on boba as it relates to Asian American identity.

“Identity actually develops when you see people who are different from you,” he explained. You don’t need to emphasize the fact that you’re Taiwanese when you’re in Taiwan.

Still, to Liu, boba’s power comes from the fact that it’s a Taiwanese invention. “China always wants to make the case that everything in Taiwan is Chinese,” he said. “But for bubble tea, you can claim that it was invented in Taiwan without a doubt.”

Read the whole story at Taiwanese American

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