Editor’s Note: Abraham Wen-Shang Chu currently serves as director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. He has also served as the Republic of China’s ambassador to the Republic of Kiribati and representative/ambassador at the Taipei Mission in Sweden. The opinions in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
History has shown that attempting to scapegoat one race, creed or gender for any reason always has a bad outcome. What starts as name-calling often evolves into discrimination, exclusion, and then injury and death.
Unfortunately, this is what the Asian community is experiencing today during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last month, Emily Lui, associate director of employer relations at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, wrote for CNN that while “most Americans are staying home, trying to navigate virtual work and worrying about paying bills, Asian Americans are doing all of that while also fearing for our safety.” PBS’s News Hour reported that the pandemic “has Americans across the country fearful for their personal health and well-being, but for Asian Americans, the virus has stirred up another threat: a wave of verbal and physical attacks.
CBS News offered an example: A 16-year-old in California who “was physically attacked this week by bullies in his high school who accused him of having the coronavirus — simply because he is Asian American.” In San Francisco, an Asian-American woman told The New York Times she was spat at by a middle-aged man while walking to the gym. Human Rights Watch has compiled reports of Asian Americans having slurs hurled at them. The New York Daily News reported that a stranger approached an Asian man on the subway, accused him of being “infected,” and tried to drag him off the train.
Sadly, these attacks have occurred, and are continuing to occur, throughout this great country. As an ambassador, I have been stationed all over the world, and I can tell you this is not the America I saw from Taiwan or from those postings abroad, nor is it the America I have come to know as director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles.
Rather, I can tell you firsthand that members of the Taiwanese community who live in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California love this country, have raised or are raising their children here, and are making significant contributions to their community. They are also working towards inclusion — not exclusion — and are doing everything they can to make both Southern California and the US an even a better place to live. They are also among the first to respond to calls for help during the pandemic, whether from the community or from our elected officials.
They are job creators, making significant contributions to the US economy through their work starting and running businesses that employ hundreds and thousands of people in the region and throughout the country—and they have opened their wallets and done their part to help fellow Americans as Covid-19 makes life more difficult for all of us.
When the coronavirus struck the US, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti asked that I reach out to members of the Taiwanese community for help. The reaction I got was positive and immediate, and the examples are revealing of what the Taiwanese community contributes to the region and to the country.
People like Walter and Shirley Wang — well positioned to help, by virtue of their jobs leading manufacturing companies — responded by donating $1 million to the Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles. They donated enough clear polyester film to make 54,500 face shields, which will be used at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and the Innovation Lab of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and more than 300,000 face masks to their customers and the surrounding communities of their 20 plants in 15 states. Their contributions to their adopted home predate the pandemic and go beyond giving money. As president and CEO of JM Eagle Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of plastic pipe, Walter Wang told me he has created approximately 300 jobs in Los Angeles and Southern California and more than 1,200 nationwide. Shirley Wang, as founder and CEO of fiberglass doormaker Plastpro, told me she has created approximately 50 jobs in Los Angeles and Southern California and approximately 200 throughout the US.
Frank Yang, founder and CEO of Simplehuman, and his father, Jackson Yang, the president and CEO of Seville Classics, responded by donating $500,000 to the mayor’s fund. Frank and Jackson Yang told me their companies have created more than 100 jobs each in Los Angeles and another 30 or so nationwide.
Kingston Technology, which is a Taiwanese founded and Asian-owned company in Fountain Valley, California, donated $500,000 to the mayoral fund. Kington Technology’s owner told me they have more than 700 employees at its Fountain Valley location and approximately 3,000 throughout the US.
And Eve Yen and James Kuo, founders of L.A.-based company Diamond Wipes, made donations totaling $150,000 to the mayor’s fund and the Asian Pacific Community Fund to help people through this difficult time. Yen and Kuo told me that their company, which has been in business for 26 years, employs more than 400 people and that it is now the largest wet wipe manufacturer in the US west of the Rockies.
These people and thousands of others like them of Asian descent — whether in Los Angeles, New York, or Dubuque, Iowa — aren’t looking for a “thank you” for their contributions, whether that contribution is going to work each day in a factory producing products, starting a company and creating jobs, or making donations like those cited above. What they are looking for is fair and equal treatment for everyone, including their families and themselves.
Garcetti said it best: “The virus doesn’t discriminate, but if we do, we’ll prolong this crisis. We are all in this together, and only together can we overcome it. We don’t know where or from whom the breakthrough we need will come. But bigotry only cuts us off from people who can offer aid or who can even develop a cure.”
Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans to the US economy, to Covid-19 relief efforts, and to the fabric of American society — and to recognize that during these trying times for this country, we are indeed all in it together.