10 Asian-Americans You Should Know About

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. With the recent spotlight on how Hollywood continues the offensive practice of yellowface and whitewashing here are 10 Asian-Americans activists and historical figures that ALL Americans should know about.
  1. 1.
    Wong Kim Ark
    The 14th Amendment states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States..." This did not apply to the children of Chinese immigrants per the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Wong Kim Ark, born in San Francisco, found this out the hard way when he tried to re-enter the US after an overseas trip. The landmark case US vs. Wong Kim Ark (1898) established the 1st time in the US history the principle of "jus soli".
  2. 2.
    Sang Lee
    In the 1880s laundry was the only job Chinese immigrants could get because it was deemed "women's" work. California passed a law outlawing laundromats in wooden buildings. When white owners applied for permits they received one, but only 1 in 200 Chinese owners got a permit. Lee of Yick Wo Laundromat sued & the case made it to the Supreme Ct where they ruled a law that is race-neutral on its face, but is administered in a prejudicial manner, is an infringement of the Equal Protection Clause.
  3. 3.
    Martha Lum
    Before Brown vs The Board of Education, Martha Lum, a 9 year old Chinese-American was prohibited from attending the Rosedale Consolidated High School in Mississippi because she was of Chinese descent. The infamous 1924 unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court affirmed the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that Martha was not to attend a school for white children.
  4. 4.
    Bhagat Singh Thind
    An Indian-American Sikh writer & activist, Thind came to the US for college but was recruited into the army for WWI. After rising the ranks to Acting Sergeant, he was honorably discharged w/his character designated as "excellent". He tried to to apply for US citizenship but was denied because he wasn't white. His trial US vs. Bhagat Singh Thind ruled in favor of the US denying all Indians citizenship. He applied 2x more for citizenship, the 2nd time was revoked but the 3rd time finally worked.
  5. 5.
    Yuri Kochiyama
    Recently seen in a Google Doodle, Japanese-American Kochiyama's was one of the few non-black Black Nationalists. She was friends with and present at the assassination of Malcolm X (she's holding his head in the famous Life magazine photo). She continued her activism, including Vietnam War protests & the 70s takeover of the Statue of Liberty demonstration for the independence of Puerto Rico. Her work earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination during the "1000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize 2005".
  6. 6.
    Anna May Wong
    The 1st Chinese American movie star. While her rise to fame in Hollywood was groundbreaking, because of anti-miscegenation laws her career was limited. She could never share an on-screen kiss w/a white actor. With limited roles, she was consigned to 2 stereotypes: the self-sacrificing butterfly & the dragonlady. She moved to Europe. She returned to the US to lobby for the lead role in The Good Earth but was deemed too "Chinese" for the Chinese character. They cast German actress Luise Rainer.
  7. 7.
    Gordon Hirabayashi & Fred Korematsu
    Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor any person of Japanese descent (whether American or not) were rounded up and detained in internment camps. Both Hirabayashi and Korematsu refused, with Hirabayashi going into hiding and becoming a fugitive before being found, while Korematsu was arrested. The legality of the internment was upheld in both cases by the Supreme Court, though 50 years later they (and others like them) were issued an apology and reparations.
  8. 8.
    Richard Aoki
    One of the only Asian Americans to have a formal leadership role in the Black Panthers, Aoki grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood of West Oakland, becoming friends with his neighbor Huey Newton. In 1966 he transferred to UC Berkeley where he joined a group that help coin the term "Asian-American" (to replace "Oriental") then becoming the 1st coordinator of the newly formed Asian-American studies.
  9. 9.
    Vincent Chin
    Arguably the spark for the contemporary Asian-American movement, Chin was brutally beaten to death in 1982 after his bachelor party by 2 white men who thought he was Japanese & blamed him for the recent Detroit auto layoffs. After beating him to death while yelling "it's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work!" the two were sentenced to 3 yrs probation & $3000 fine (w/no jail time). Chin's injustice sparked street protests though his murderers remained unpunished to this day.
  10. 10.
    Larry Itliong & Philip Vera Cruz
    Filipino-American activists and labor organizers, both Itliong and Cruz (along with Benjamin Gines & Pete Velasco) walked off table-grape farms as part of the Agriculture Workers Organizing Committed in protest of wages below the federal minimum wage. The protest that became known as the Delano Grape Strike. A week after walking off the farms, Cesar Chavez and the National Farmworkers Association joined in the strike and the two groups merged, forming the United Farm Workers of America.
  11. 11.
    Fun Fact #1: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had the distinct honor of being the 1st law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the US.
    Such an honor to be singled out! It was repealed in December 17, 1943.
  12. 12.
    Fun Fact #2: In 1917 Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917 (otherwise known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act) which effectively banned all immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Islands.
    Because apparently just banning Chinese wasn't enough. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 abolished all racial restrictions on US immigration and naturalization statutes.