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Celebrating Impactful Asian Americans Throughout History

Celebrating Impactful Asian Americans Throughout History

May 18, 2022
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May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. America owes much to Asian American and Pacific Islander citizens. This year, we would like to recognize the leaders, artists, scientists, and athletes of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage and celebrate their contributions.

Philip Vera Cruz

Recognized as a member of the Asian American Movement, Philip Vera Cruz was a Filipino American founding member of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and vice president of the United Farm Workers (UFW).1

Vera Cruz was integral to the growth and spread of the UFW and its purpose to fight against poor labor conditions, treatment, and pay of Filipino American and Mexican American farmworkers throughout California.1

Anna May Wong

With a multi-medium career spanning film, radio, early television, and stage, Anna May Wong established herself as the first Chinese American movie star.

Despite her success during the 1920s and 1930s, Wong faced discrimination throughout her entire film career. She spoke out against the portrayal of Chinese characters in film as Asian stereotypes and fought for better roles. She sought work in Europe, and starred on stage alongside Laurence Olivier in the play A Circle of Chalk. Despite promises by American studios to give her better roles, Wong starred in a number of B-movies.2

After pausing her career during World War II, Wong returned triumphant to the United States in 1951, breaking new ground by becoming the first Asian American lead in television for her show The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.2

Sammy Lee

Sammy Lee, born Samuel Rhee, was a physician, veteran of the U.S Army medical corps, and the first Korean-American Olympic diver.3

Lee’s dedication to his sport led to multiple Olympic gold medals and membership in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.3

Patsy Mink

Patsy Mink forged new ground at every step of her career. From her early life to becoming the first Japanese-American Congresswoman, Mink faced barriers every step of the way.4

When Mink’s applications to med school were all denied, she chose instead to become a lawyer. As a lawyer, Mink was denied work due to her interracial marriage, which led to her starting her own practice.4

As a Congresswoman, Mink fought for equality, education, and childcare for everyone.4

Amy Tan

Second-generation Chinese American Amy Tan never planned to write fiction but quickly became a prolific writer and New York Times bestselling author.5

Tan has spoken and lectured at a range of locations, from Oxford to the White House. Among her many achievements, Tan also participates in yearly fundraisers as a member of the band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, raising over a million dollars for literacy programs.5

Some of Tan’s work includes The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. The success of her work has led to many film and stage adaptations that shine a light on challenges faced by Chinese American immigrants and their children.5

Kalpana Chawla

A NASA astronaut and engineer, Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian American woman in space. She also received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.6

With an M.S. and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, Kalpana began working as a researcher for NASA in 1988 and later became the Vice President of Overset Methods, Inc. Her research and its applications would be documented and used in various technical journals and papers in this position.6

Sadly, Kalpana Chawla’s life was cut short on February 1, 2003 in the Columbia space shuttle disaster, which killed all astronauts aboard.6

David Ho, M.D.

Dr. David Ho is a renowned Chinese-American physician, Harvard graduate, and professor at Columbia University.7

Dr. Ho’s research into AIDS and HIV led to the breakthrough of combination antiretroviral therapy, turning the tide in the fight against AIDS. Recently, Dr. Ho has turned his attention towards COVID-19 treatment and vaccination research.7

There are many other Asian American and Pacific Islanders we haven’t mentioned here. Use the time this month to explore the rich and varied cultures of people who make up a part of these great United States.

1. Bayaniart.com, 2022
2. Womenshistory.org, 2022
3. Britannica.com, 2022
4. Womenshistory.org, 2022
5. Amytan.net, 2022
6. Nasa.gov, May 2004
7. Microbiology.columbia.edu, 2022

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