Taipei and Tractors

How two cultures have shaped a West student’s life

Sylvia Bryan and Sami Jansen

Though she’s lived in Kansas for decades, Meishein Wang’s house reflects her Taiwanese roots. It’s decorated with wall hangings, sculptures and other forms of artistry revealing her connections to her old world.

Wang lives in Lenexa with her daughter, senior Meilene Robinette. She emigrated from Taiwan to the United States as a young adult, and was the first Asian exchange nursing student at Pittsburg State University. Wang started her life in a town outside of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city.

“My father was a fairly prominent member of the community and he was one very educated guy. So I grew up with everyone knowing who my father was,” Wang said.

Wang’s parents came of age during World War II, when Taiwan was occupied by Japan.

“The Japanese took all of the guys into service regardless [of whether] you wanted it or not, they would put them in airplanes, tied them up and made them into suicide bombers. So it was a sad story,” Wang said.

Young women, such as Wang’s mother, faced a different risk. At the time, the Japanese army would search for young Taiwanese women, many of whom were forced into sex slavery. Protection was not widely available, which resulted in many of these women developing sexually transmitted infections. If one of these women was found to have an STI, she would be executed.

However, Wang’s mother was able to avoid this. The Japanese only took virgins, who were highly valued at the time, into the slavery trade. Because of this, married women were safer. Married men were also less likely to be forced into the military. Although Wang’s parents didn’t know each other at the time, family friends brought them together and they soon married.

Later, Wang’s parents would raise seven children together. Wang was the youngest.

After going through school in Taiwan, Wang decided she wanted to continue her education. Her father encouraged her to go into business, which is what he did.

At 15 years old, Wang decided she wanted to pursue a career in nursing.

“I could be a nurse. I’m passionate enough at what I’m doing; I have great knowledge in medicines. I believed I could be an excellent nurse,” Wang said.

Wang continued her education in Taiwan and earned the highest nursing license there was at the time.  

While working in the coronary care unit, Wang witnessed the death of one of her schoolmate’s sisters. The woman was involved in a motorcycle accident and died after undergoing a risky operation. The experience inspired Wang to go to the United States to further her knowledge of medicine.

Eventually, she convinced her father to let her come to the United States to further continue her education. Later, she would meet Robinette’s father.

Robinette’s father is a Kansas native. Bob Robinette grew up on a farm in Ottawa, a town of about 12 thousand. He attended a small grade school with multi-age classrooms.

“The teacher taught three or four grades, one row was first grade, another row was second, and another was third,” Bob Robinette said.

Bob wants Meilene to live her own life.

“I can’t live her life. she has to live her own life. I screwed my own up, I don’t want to screw up anyone else’s,” Bob said.

Being raised within two very different cultures has had various effects on Meilene Robinette’s life.

“Growing up I always had two different kinds of food, that was a really big one. And just from that I was always aware of different cultures, and I was able to grow from that,” Robinette said.

Robinette also wasn’t raised within a single religion, instead growing up with a combination of Buddhist and Christian traditions.

“My dad, he’s from a farm, and we always went to church, and my mom is from an Asian country, and they’re Buddhist,” Robinette said.

“We’ve gone to Buddhist temples, that’s kind of their tradition to go on the holidays and we do that. We kind of started some of our own too. We do go to my uncle’s for Christmas and Thanksgiving. At school, a lot of kids are really really mean, so my mom made sure I had Christmas,” Robinette said.

“I had two worlds put together,” Robinette said.

“It was always fun,” she said.