While many visitors to New York City are familiar with Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, a vibrant community of myriad Asian cultures lies across the East River in Queens.
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing population in New York City, with a 34.4 percent increase from 2010-2020. Per the 2020 US census, Asian Americans make up 17.3 percent of the total NYC population.
47.6 percent of Asian Americans in New York City live in the borough of Queens, nicknamed “The World’s Borough,” as a testament to being one of the most diverse counties in the United States. Queens is home to numerous Asian ethnic groups, the largest being its Chinese and Indian communities. Among them is the comparatively small, yet significant Taiwanese community in Queens.
The origins of the Taiwanese community in Queens coincided with the general rise in Asian immigration to the United States beginning around 1965, when the US Naturalization and Immigration Act removed its discriminatory quota system based on country of origin. Immigration from Taiwan to the United States has continuously increased, from 75,353 in 1980 to around 377,900 in 2022. Many of these immigrants gravitated towards population centers with existing Taiwanese diaspora communities in California and New York.
Notably, surveys and census data measuring the Taiwanese population in the United States encounter the difficulty of measuring Taiwanese identity — that is, if the survey-taker identifies as being from Taiwan or from China. Perceptions of Taiwanese identity have also changed over time, as a 2021 poll showed 63.3 percent of survey respondents identifying as Taiwanese, compared to 48.4 in 2008. As a result, Taiwanese are likely undercounted in US census data.
Taiwanese immigration to New York City more than doubled from 5,643 in 2010 to 13,673 in 2021. Almost half of Taiwanese NYC residents live in Queens, New York, predominantly in the areas of Elmhurst, Flushing, Oakland Gardens, and Douglaston. As a result of this large Taiwanese community, a branch of Taiwan’s Overseas Community Affairs Council was established in Flushing; it serves the greater New York Area as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
These vibrant Queens communities are home to some of the best Taiwanese restaurants in the area, such as Taiwanese Gourmet in Elmhurst, open for more than 40 years, and Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet in Flushing, serving staples such as Three Cup Chicken. One can also try a variety of Bubble Tea, a popular Taiwanese drink, in Queens. The renowned brown sugar bubble tea shop Xing Fu Tang opened a storefront in Flushing in 2021 and international bubble tea franchise Tiger Sugar from Taichung, Taiwan has storefronts in both Elmhurst and Flushing.
Queens hosts a variety of Taiwanese art and culture events, with some this year including the US debut of Taiwanese troupe ‘Puppet Beings’ in a performance at Flushing Town Hall, as well as the Tenth Annual Taiwan: A World of Orchids exhibition, in partnership with the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in New York (TECO-NY), held at the Queens Botanical Garden.
The Taiwanese diaspora has achieved a great deal. Taiwanese immigrants have some of the highest levels of educational attainment, with over half holding a college degree. Additionally, close to two thirds of Taiwanese immigrants in NYC work in professional and managerial occupations. A multitude of prominent New York politicians from Queens have roots in Taiwan, including John Liu, the first Asian-American to be elected to the New York City Council and the first Asian American to serve in a citywide post as comptroller, and Grace Meng, the first Asian American elected to Congress from New York who currently serves as representative for the Sixth District of New York.
Economically, culturally, politically, and beyond, the Taiwanese community in Queens has thrived, contributing to the fast-growing tapestry of Asian communities throughout New York City and the United States.
Claire Callahan is a graduate student at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs pursuing a Master of Arts in Asian Studies. Claire previously worked as Communication Officer at The Korea Society in New York City and was a Fulbright grantee to South Korea.