Chinese American Community Organizations Fight Virus, Discrimination With Philanthropy

May 22, 2020

Some folks saw posts on social media. Several received messages from elected officials. Others heard via word of mouth. Regardless, by the time May 1 arrived, a line of cars curved two blocks down the road from the Cary Senior Center, as drivers waited to pick up 10 free facemasks from their cars.

During the pandemic, Triangle Chinese American community organizations have worked tirelessly to provide donations - and they're doing so as reports of anti-Asian discrimination skyrocket across the United States. The facemask giveaway was just one example of their philanthropy.

So far, the Chinese American Friendship Association of North Carolina, or CAFA, has donated more than $102,000 worth of personal protective equipment to hospitals, businesses and individuals. Additionally, area Chinese restaurants have donated more than $14,000 in meals to those in need.

It's been a community-wide effort, said Ya Liu, Cary's first Asian American town council member.

"It's really just heartwarming to see so many people who want to help," Liu said. "I'm so happy to be a part of this effort."

Long before the Triangle saw its first case, many Chinese Americans who live in the area were already hyperaware of the coronavirus.

Talking with family and friends overseas, community members started taking precautionary measures as early as January, when they called off Chinese New Year celebrations. Around that time, CAFA members also began ordering bulk shipments of facemasks and other PPE in case of a future outbreak.

The shipments came from Chinese companies and individuals, said CAFA board chair Jianping Yang.

"In the U.S., we are extremely short (on masks)," Yang said. "We are in a unique position because we can get these masks from friends in China and get them and distribute them here."

Outside of CAFA, individuals have gotten involved as well. Lian Xie, a professor at North Carolina State University, facilitated communications between North Carolina and Hunan, China - the state's sister province. Through this partnership, Xie said the state has received $100,000 worth of PPE.

"Having someone who understands the cultural and language of both sides would certainly help to keep the dialogue and exchanges going," Xie said.

Liu, who's a first-generation Chinese immigrant, said she's immensely proud of the efforts. She said they're especially important right now, amid reports across the country of increasing racial discrimination against Asian Americans.

In just one month, STOP A.A.P.I. HATE, an online reporting center, processed about 1,500 claims of "coronavirus discrimination." Most reports cited verbal harassment, though other respondents reported physical assaults, workplace discrimination, and being coughed or spat on.

A nonprofit called North Carolina Asian Americans Together also recently launched its own statewide reporting site.

Amid all of this, Liu said there's more at stake for Chinese Americans during the pandemic.

"We do have something to prove, and I would like to prove people wrong," Liu said. "Those people who have said negative, nasty things against Chinese Americans, who have attacked innocent people simply because of their race."

Cary Town Council members Ya Liu (left) and Lori Bush talk during the May 1 facemask giveaway. Liu, Cary's first Asian American councilmember, has been one of CAFA's lead organizers in their philanthropic efforts.
Credit Chinese American Friendship Association of North Carolina

CAFA isn't alone in its efforts. Chinese American organizations in New York and California have also supplied large quantities of PPE to frontline workers.

East Chapel Hill High School Robin Gao and her mother have been sewing facemasks for essential workers.

Gao said she cares deeply about Chapel Hill, the only hometown she's ever known, and she wants to be "on the right side of history." However, she added that the motivations of her parents, who are first-generation Chinese immigrants, differ in some ways.

"This is the only life I know. But for them, especially, they really want to show that the Chinese community is equally involved in helping this country be a better place as anybody else," Gao said.