When James Chuang left Taiwan to study in the United States around 35 years ago, he arrived with nothing, relying on the goodwill and generosity of others to get him through.
Now he’s paying that back. With his successful catering business in New York City closed because of COVID-19, Chuang has used his free time to procure and donate medical supplies — and promote Taiwan as well-positioned to help in this global pandemic.
“We try to bring voice to let people know Taiwanese are good and helpful to the whole world,” Chuang, an adviser to Taiwan’s Overseas Community Affairs Council in New York, told NBC Asian America.
As the U.S. battles the coronavirus, Taiwanese Americans are among those stepping up to donate lunches, money and medical supplies.
Their philanthropy comes as Taiwan — the self-ruled democratic island that China claims as its own — receives worldwide praise for containing the coronavirus.
China, meanwhile, has embarked on an aggressive push to recast itself as eager to offer medical supplies and COVID-19 assistance — after initially mishandling its own response to the coronavirus.
Not to be outdone, Taiwan has set about donating millions of face masks to the U.S., European countries and its diplomatic allies, and chronicling its efforts under hashtags like #TaiwanCanHelp and #TaiwanIsHelping.
Taiwanese Americans who have been donating to hospitals, organizations and people see their philanthropic work as an opportunity to showcase the best of Taiwan’s culture.
“Members of the Taiwanese American community are making Taiwan proud,” Lily Hsu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, Taiwan’s de facto embassy, said in an email. “They represent the spirit of generosity that the Taiwanese people are known for, and they bring that spirit to their adopted home.”
Chuang, who lives in New Jersey, said he first got involved in late March by working his business contacts to secure masks for several thousand students from Taiwan who were studying in the tri-state area.
One of Chuang’s friends saw a social media post he made about the effort and reached out to see if Chuang could help New York-Presbyterian Queens. COVID-19 patients were pouring into the hospital, which is in a neighborhood with many residents of Chinese and Taiwanese descent.
The Morning Rundown
Get a head start on the morning's top stories.
Working with several other Taiwanese American groups, Chuang pulled together 10,000 surgical masks and assembled 200 lunches to donate in early April.
“They know we support them because they work very hard,” he said.
Joey Chiang, president of the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce of New York, said he sprung into action because of his sister-in-law, a nurse on the frontlines at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
Chiang said he prefers to stay out of the messy politics between China and Taiwan.
“In this situation, everybody is affected,” said Chiang, who is in the construction business. “There’s no nationality, no race, no nothing. You just try to help whoever you help.”
Their philanthropy, Chuang said, sometimes leads curious recipients to ask about Taiwan, where the Nationalists retreated to in 1949 as they fled Communist forces amid the Chinese Civil War.
Since then, Taiwan, which China has vowed to reunite with the mainland, has transformed itself into a vibrant and thriving democracy, even legalizing same-sex marriage, a first in Asia.
“Because of this coronavirus, we get more recognition because we’ve done so well,” said Patsy Fang Chen, president of the Taiwan Center in Queens and one of the Taiwanese Americans involved in helping with donations.