10 Influential Asian Pacific American Leaders

May 12, 2018

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, also known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

 

Established by Congress in 1992, the month of May celebrates the various Asian and Pacific Island cultures, traditions, and heritages in the United State. Asian Pacific Heritage month also commemorates and recognizes the achievements and contributions of AAPI in our country.

 

 

May is a significant month for two reasons: The Japanese immigrated to the U.S. on May 7, 1863, and the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869 (most of the workers were Chinese immigrants here).

 

There are numerous AAPI individuals and cohorts throughout history who should be recognized for their influences to the AAPI communities. In addition, there are 10 who are pioneers and achievers in both progress and change.

 

Connie Chung can be considered a pioneer for the Asian American community, specifically in the realm of the media and television. Chung is named as the first female journalist of Asian descent to be on American television broadcasts as a reporter and substitute anchor. She is the first Asian American female journalist to be named a nightly news anchor for a major television broadcasting network, CBS.

 

Patsy Takemoto Mink is a lawyer and politician in the United States government and the first woman of color Asian American woman elected to Congress. As a third generation Japanese American, Mink was elected in 1964 as a Democratic representative for Hawaii in the U.S. House of Representatives. Notably, one of her major achievements is as a major contributor to Title IX. This contribution brings academic and athletic equality to educational institutions in the U.S.

 

Mazie Hirono is a Democratic United States lawyer and politician recognized for many “firsts.” She is the first elected female senator from Hawaii from Asian descent, the first U.S. senator born in Japan and the first U.S. senator to identify herself as a Buddhist. Lastly, Hirono is currently running for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2018.

 

Anna May Wong is often considered to be the first Chinese American Hollywood actress and movie star to gain international fame and recognition. She starred as the lead actress  in 1951’s The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first television show in the United States with an Asian American series lead. Wong’s legacy is credited as helping humanize Chinese Americans to white audiences during a period when Chinese Americans were viewed as perpetual foreigners and immigrants.

 

Helen Zia is not only a Chinese American journalist, but also an activist for AAPIs and LGBTQ rights. Zia played a large role in pushing for more AAPI response to the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980s. Helen also is acknowledged for demanding justice for Chin through her journalistic works and advocacy. She is noted as an active leader in creating movements to promote cross racial unity among those of color with low income.

 

Ang Lee has gained international recognition as a Taiwanese film director, screenwriter and producer in Hollywood. His films often explore conflicts and relationships between the Eastern and Western tradition, paradigan and modernity. Lee’s films are also famous for hidden emotions in the characters and plots, which are meant to offset cultural barriers. In Hollywood, Lee is the first and second person of color to win Best Director at the Academy Awards for his work on Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Life of Pi (2012).

 

Minoru Yamasaki can be considered as one of the most prominent 20th century modern architects for designed work at New York City’s World Trade Center. Yamasaki is of Japanese descent and is credited as one of two master pioneers of New Formalism, a style of design which emerged in the mid-1950s and blossomed in popularity throughout the 1960s. New Formalism includes classical elements like symmetrical elevations and strict building proportion and scale that include classic columns; colonnades, arches and entablatures. His design is most commonly used in high-profile cultural, institutional and civic buildings built with luxurious quality materials (marble, granite and/or man-made). Yamasaki has designed several national buildings and modern monuments.

 

Shawn Wong is a Chinese American author and scholar who is also credited as a pioneer of Asian American studies in a vast amount of American colleges and universities. Wong is a leader in Asian American literature and is best known for his novel, “American Knees” (1996). The novel depicts the complex love life of an Asian American man and his relationships with three women.

 

M Night Shyamalan is an internationally recognized American film director and screenwriter of Indian descent. His movies are famous for their modern supernatural plots, psychological thriller elements and surprise endings such as The Sixth Sense (1999), Signs (2002) and The Village (2004). Shyamalan is considered a blockbuster filmmaker of original non-franchise, non-sequel and non-adapted films.

 

Constance Wu is a Taiwanese American Hollywood actress known for being one of the few actresses to portray Asian American womanhood on television in modern society. Through her lead role as Jessica in Fresh Off The Boat, Wu breaks barriers for AAPIs in Hollywood. Her outspoken personality sets her as an activist for Hollywood’s sexism and whitewashing tendencies. Constance is a leader for bringing awareness to the lack of AAPI representation and diversity in Hollywood and the media.

 

With Asian American and Pacific Islander pioneers and leaders across all fields, including art, government, and entertainment, May is the time to commemorate and highlight these influencers of change to celebrate their accomplishments in the United States.

 

​Sara Kim graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and a double minor in Health Policy and Management and Asian American Studies from Ithaca College. She currently works as an Event Coordinator at a non-profit. In her free time, she enjoys working out, reading, watching movies, and cooking. Fun fact: as a foodie, she loves to try new foods and travel to new places.

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