Tools To Dream: 101 Points Of Chinese American Pride

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This article is part of our series on Chinese American History. Sign up for our newsletter to receive family-friendly activity, recipe and craft ideas throughout the year!

I reflect frequently on how important it is for kids to see themselves in their textbooks, the media and the world around them. Visibility helps us feel that we matter and that our stories are part of a shared social fabric during a formative time in our lives when we begin to define who we are and want to become.

When Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) kicks off each May, it invokes a regular critique of such celebrations. In short, when an entire community’s history is compressed into a single month, allowing recognition of only the most notable players and events, does it relegate that same history to the sidelines for the rest of the year?


While I think APAHM broadens general cultural awareness in the United States, it serves a more specific and vital purpose for kids by providing the tools they need to dream. We should use APAHM as an annual opportunity to inspire kids with their community’s contributions, to strengthen their sense of belonging and to reinforce the value of their identity.

With those goals in mind, I’m excited to share with you below 101 sources of Chinese American pride, from the mundane to the extraordinary, which collectively celebrate the community’s contributions here in the United States. Whatever your child’s interest, there is an event, experience or individual to illustrate how Chinese Americans have influenced American history and helped build the United States.

Drumroll, please. I’ll reveal 25 new points of Chinese American pride during each week of 2018 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Your turn! What do you think of these points of pride? What would you add to this list?


101 Points of Chinese American Pride

101. The Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Stewart Kwoh founded the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in 1983 and it’s grown to become the the largest legal aid and civil rights organization serving the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Now known as Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the organization serves more than 15,000 individuals and organizations every year through direct services, impact litigation and policy advocacy.

100. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma

A graduate of both the Juilliard School and Harvard University, cellist Yo-Yo Ma has enjoyed a prolific career as both a soloist performing with orchestras around the world and a recording artist. He has recorded more than 90 albums, has received 18 Grammy Awards and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

99. Chinese Restaurants

Experts estimate that there are more than 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, more than McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s combined. Chinese food has not only gained acceptance in America but is one of the country’s most beloved cuisines.

98. George Washington’s Porcelain Collection

Chinese luxury goods were prized during colonial times. George Washington’s Mount Vernon home contained many pieces of porcelain and he took a Chinese tea set with him on his independence campaign to impress his men and reinforce his status and refinement.

97. Canton Bank

Founded in 1907 to help rebuild after the previous year’s devastating San Francisco earthquake, Canton Bank was the first Chinese American banking institution. It quickly became the preferred bank for nearly one hundred thousand Chinese immigrants throughout the United States and Mexico.

96. Yosemite’s Sing Peak

Sing Peak, a 10,552 foot summit at Yosemite National Park, is named for Tie Sing, head cook for the U.S. Geological Survey when cartographers were mapping out the park for preservation at the turn of the 20th century.

95. Actor B.D. Wong

Actor B.D. Wong won a Tony Award in 1988 for his performance as Song Liling in M. Butterfly, becoming the only actor in Broadway history to receive the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Clarence Derwent Award and Theatre World Award for the same role.

94. Fortune Cookies

According to the New York Times, roughly 3 billion fortune cookies are distributed each year in Chinese restaurants around the world. The best available research suggests that the fortune cookie was popularized in Los Angeles or San Francisco during the early 20th century.

93. The Wok

Wok is one of many English words used in the United States that’s actually Chinese. The word for this essential tool for stir fry cooking comes from the Cantonese wohk, meaning “pan.”

92. Chinese Americans in the Civil War

Corporal Joseph L. Pierce is one of approximately 58 Chinese Americans to serve in the Civil War. He enlisted in the 14th Connecticut Infantry on July 26, 1862, and fought in several major battles including Antietam and Gettysburg.

91. Northern California Grocery Stores

After coming to America in 1916 at the age of 16, Lee Gim became the “father of Chinese American supermarkets” by building a network of grocery stores in northern California. By the 1950s, there was a Chinese-owned supermarket in nearly every northern California community.

90. Aviator Maggie Gee

Along with Hazel Ying Lee, Maggie Gee was one of two Chinese American women to serve in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. As a WASP, she ferried military aircraft and helped male pilots train for combat, as female pilots were not allowed to serve in combat at that time.

89. New York Chinatown

New York Chinatown was established during the 1870s in Lower Manhattan, with Mott Street as its main boulevard. Today, the New York metropolitan area is home to nearly one million ethnic Chinese, the largest such population outside of Asia.

88. Reformer Yung Wing

Yung Wing became the first Chinese graduate of a major American college at Yale in 1854. His Chinese Educational Mission later helped other students attend college in the United States, such as Hong Yen Chang, who became the first Chinese immigrant licensed to practice law in America.

87. The First Chinese Americans

The first Chinese documented in the United States landed in Baltimore on August 9, 1785, aboard the Pallas, a ship that regularly sailed between the American east coast and China. Captain John O’Donnell retired and bought a Baltimore estate he named Canton after the port in southern China.

86. Soldier Francis Wai

Captain Francis B. Wai, was the first Chinese American to receive the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism in action on October 20, 1944, in Leyte, Philippine Islands. His remains are buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

85. Horticulturalist Ah Bing

In 1875, Oregon orchard foreman Ah Bing became the namesake for what would become America’s most popular variety of cherry. Ah Bing visited China in 1889 and, due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, never returned to the United States.

84. The Flying Tigers

Although most were assigned to integrated units, ten all-Chinese American units were formed during World War II, supporting the 14th Air Force’s famed Flying Tigers in the China, Burma and India Theater.

83. Actress Lucy Liu

An instantly recognizable face on American TV and movie screens, Lucy Liu is best known for her work on Ally McBeal (1998-2002), Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Kill Bill (2003). She’s received a Primetime Emmy, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Critics’ Choice Television Award for her screen work.

82. Politician Gary Locke

The governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005, Gary Locke was the first Chinese American to serve as governor of any American state. He later became the first Chinese American to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China from 2011 to 2014 during the Obama administration.

81. 20 Mule Teams

In 1883, Harmony Borax Works hired Chinese laborers to work at its Death Valley mine in California’s high desert, where in 120 degree heat they operated the wagon treks that would give the 20 Mule Team Borax brand its name.

80. Entrepreneur Joe Shoong

After immigrating to the United States in 1901 when he was 20 years old, Joe Shoong opened a small store in Vallejo, CA, which grew to become the National Dollar Stores chain. He was one of the wealthiest and most well-known Chinese American businessmen in the United States in the early 20th century.

79. Chinese Tea in Boston Harbor

The cargo defiantly tossed overboard during the Boston Tea Party in 1773 was Chinese tea, which the colonists had come to love but destroyed in the name of patriotism. The majority of the tea was a type of Oolong grown in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian, shipped out through the port of Xiamen.

78. The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance

The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (CHLA) was formed in 1933 to defeat a discriminatory law intended to put New York City’s 3,500+ Chinese laundries out of business. In the wake of that success, the CHLA continued to advocate for the civil rights of Chinese in North America through the 20th century.

77. Sociologist Rose Hum Lee

After becoming the first Chinese American woman to earn a doctorate in sociology in 1947, Rose Hum Lee gained recognition for her pioneering studies of Chinese Americans in the United States. She later became the first Chinese American to head an American university sociology department in 1956.

76. Fashion Designer Vera Wang

Vera Wang is one of the most prominent designers of bridal wear in America and is one of the best known fashion designers in the world. She is recognized for her sophisticated, youthful, and elegant collections that are widely admired and imitated.

75. Cinematographer James Wong Howe

A two-time Academy Award winner and 10-time nominee, cinematographer James Wong Howe shot more than 130 movies from the 1920s to the 1970s. He was a master at the use of shadow and pioneered the use of deep-focus cinematography.

74. Gold Mountain Shops

The small Chinese markets found across America today trace their roots to the Gold Mountain Shops (or jinshanzhuang) established during the 1850s. These early outposts were supplied by vast distribution networks originating in Hong Kong and spread to every corner of the United States where Chinese Americans could be found.

73. Activist Ruby Chow

From humble beginnings, Ruby Chow rose to become a pivotal figure in Seattle through her political career and community activism. She was the first Chinese American elected to the King County Council, the first woman elected president of the local Chong Wa Benevolent Association and ran a restaurant popular with local kingmakers.

72. Soldier Sing Kee

Born in Saratoga, CA, in 1896, Sing Kee became the first Chinese American to receive a combat medal when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism during World War I. Although seriously gassed during an attack, Private Kee refused evacuation and continued to operate the regimental message center relay station at Mont Notre Dame.

71. Actress Nancy Kwan

Born in Hong Kong, Nancy Kwan was the first Chinese American actress to find mainstream success in the United States. The star of 1960’s The World of Suzie Wong, Kwan is perhaps best known for playing the leading role in 1961’s Flower Drum Song, the first big-budget American film with an all–Asian cast.

70. San Francisco Chinatown

In 1849, the first Chinatown in the United States was established in San Francisco near the corner of Sacramento and Dupont Streets. Early residents called San Francisco dai fou, literally meaning “Big City.”

69. Astronaut Leroy Chiao

Selected by NASA in January 1990, Chiao became an astronaut in July 1991 and is a veteran of three Space Shuttle flights. While living on the International Space Station in November 2004, Chiao became the first American to vote in a presidential election while in space.

68. Dim Sum

Dim sum is one of many English phrases used in the United States that’s actually Chinese. Attracting morning crowds to restaurants across the country, dim sum translates literally as “touch of the heart,” perfectly describing the small, appetizer-like dishes of food served during the course of the meal.

67. Politician Elaine Chao

After arriving in America at the age of 8, Elaine Chao became the first Chinese American appointed to a President’s Cabinet. She served as the 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor from 2001-2009 and was confirmed as the 18th U.S. Secretary of Transportation in 2017. A former Director of the Peace Corps, Chao also served as CEO of the United Way of America.

66. Concert Promoter Esther Wong

Known as the “Godmother of Punk” in Los Angeles, Esther Wong was a restaurant owner and music promoter during the 1980s. During this era, her venue “Madame Wong’s” showcased a veritable “who’s who” of rock music, including The Police, Fishbone, The Go-Go’s, Guns N’ Roses, Black Flag and The Ramones.

65. Panda Express

Andrew and Peggy Cherng founded Panda Express in 1983, creating a restaurant empire that now operates 1,800+ eateries, employs 26,000+ people and generates more than $2 billion in revenue per year.

64. Tennis Player Michael Chang

Gen X’ers will remember tennis player Michael Chang lighting up television screens during the 1980s and 1990s. Known for his quickness and tireless determination, Chang won 34 professional singles titles, including the 1989 French Open at age 17, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008.

63. Judge Delbert Wong

After completing 30 bombing missions in Europe while serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Delbert Wong became the first Chinese American graduate from Stanford Law School in 1949. A legal trailblazer, Wong went on to become the first Chinese American judge in the continental United States in 1959.

62. Entrepreneur Albert Y.C. Yu

An entrepreneur and microprocessor developer, Dr. Albert Y.C. Yu joined Intel in 1972 for a legendary 30 year career. During his tenure, Intel become the largest semiconductor company in the world, as Dr. Yu led the development of six microprocessors from the 386 to the Pentium 4.

61. Chinese Takeout & Delivery

America’s love of “ordering in,” owes much to Chinese restaurants, who were among the first to offer food takeout and delivery services in the United States. Originally patented by Frederick Weeks Wilcox in 1894, the instantly-familiar paper takeout container acquired its iconic red Chinese pagoda design in the 1970s.

60. Activist Grace Lee Boggs

Human rights advocate Grace Lee Boggs fought for civil rights, labor, feminism, the environment and other causes for seven decades. Born to Chinese immigrants, Boggs was an author and philosopher who founded advocacy groups, organized unemployed workers and established food cooperatives, part of her efforts to advance racial and economic justice through nonconfrontational methods.

59. Play-Doh

Working from a compound originally invented as a commercial wallpaper cleaner, Dr. Tien Liu perfected the formula for what would become Play-Doh for Rainbow Crafts in 1957, then stayed on as Play-Doh Expert when the breakthrough toy product was purchased by Kenner and then Hasbro.

58. Director Ang Lee

Academy Award winning Director Ang Lee is best known for his films Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain (Best Director, 2005) and Life of Pi (Best Director, 2012). Lee is known for combining his Chinese and American cultural experiences in films that earn him fans worldwide.

57. Executive Christine Poon

Healthcare executive Christine Poon rose to become vice chairman of Johnson & Johnson’s board of directors and Worldwide Chairman of the company’s Pharmaceuticals Group. After driving J&J’s rise as a global pharmaceuticals company, she served as dean of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business from 2009 to 2014.

56. Philanthropist Oscar Tang

Investor and philanthropist Oscar Tang launched a successful business career at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette before founding the asset management firm Reich & Tang in 1970. In 1990, Tang co-founded the Committee of 100, a national nonpartisan organization of Chinese American leaders, and serves on multiple boards, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The New York Philharmonic.

55. Dramatist David Henry Hwang

Acclaimed dramatist David Henry Hwang is best known as the author of M. Butterfly, the enduring 1988 work originally starring John Lithgow and B.D. Wong that won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, John Gassner Award and Outer Critics Circle Award.

54. Benjamin Franklin’s Chinese Influences

Though the great American inventor Benjamin Franklin never visited China, he greatly admired Chinese culture and its Confucian emphasis on hard work. He took particular interest in Chinese technology, specifically the country’s census taking, silk production, navigation practices and heating systems.

53. Entrepreneur Tony Hsieh

Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh grew the online shoe retailer Zappos to $1 billion in sales before selling the company to Amazon for $1.2 billion in July 2009. A noted motivational speaker on leadership topics, Hsieh also leads an effort to re-develop and revitalize downtown Las Vegas.

52. Aviator Katherine Cheung

Katherine Cheung became the first Chinese American woman to earn a pilot’s license in 1932. Hailed as the “Chinese Amelia Earhart,” Cheung is memorialized at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for her accomplishments.

51. Fashion Designer Vivienne Tam

International designer Vivienne Tam’s fashion brand is known for the inspiration it takes from Chinese culture and East-West fusion. Honored by Forbes as one of the “25 Top Chinese Americans in Business,” Tam authored the award-winning China Chic and has pieces featured at museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Museum.


50. Restauranteur Cecilia Chiang

A pioneer in the food world, restauranteur Cecilia Chiang was among the first chefs to introduce authentic northern Chinese cuisine to the United States. A winner of a James Beard award for lifetime achievement, she’s perhaps best known for founding the Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco in 1961.

49. The Yellow Jacket

Opened in 1912 at New York’s Fulton Theatre before moving to Broadway, George Hazleton’s The Yellow Jacket was the first play based on elements of Chinese opera to be staged by a white theater company. When its global run ended, no American play had ever traveled so far and been performed in so many cities.

48. Gymnast Amy Chow

A two-time Olympian, Amy Chow was the first Chinese American woman to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics. She’s best known for being a member of the Magnificent Seven, which won the United States’ first team gold medal in Olympic gymnastics in 1996.

47. Ketchup

Derived from the Hokkien term kê-tsiap, Ketchup is one of many English words used in the United States that’s actually Chinese. Europeans added tomatoes to a sauce originally made from fermented fish to create America’s favorite condiment.

46. Author Iris Chang

The acclaimed author of 1997’s The Rape of Nanking and 2003’s The Chinese in America, Iris Chang wrote gripping narrative histories about the experiences of the Chinese and Chinese Americans. She wrote, “The America of today would not be the same America without the achievements of its ethnic Chinese.”

45. Politician Wing Luke

After serving as an Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, Wing Luke became the first Chinese American to hold elected office in the state of Washington when he won a seat on the Seattle City Council in 1962.

44. The Joy Luck Club

Though it remains the subject of debate for its portrayal of Chinese American characters, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club broke through to achieve widespread success in America. After several months on The New York Times Bestseller List following its 1989 publication, The Joy Luck Club was adapted for the big screen by director Wayne Wang in 1993.

43. Canton in America

There are 30 American cities and localities named after the Chinese port city of Canton. They include Canton, Ohio, named out of admiration for John O’Donnell, the trader who brought the first Chinese to America, and Canton, Georgia, named out of hopes for the creation of local silk industry.

42. Soldier Ying Hsing Wen

In 1909, Ying Hsing Wen became the first Chinese cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy. After a decorated military career in China and Taiwan, Wen retired in the United States where his great-grandson Alexander Kozlowski would graduate from West Point in 2017.

41. Gung Ho

This rousing American military term for showing enthusiasm actually comes from the name for Chinese industrial cooperatives gōng hé, which means “work together.” Admiring the work ethic of these organizations, Lieutenant Evans Carlson made this phrase the unofficial slogan for the Marines in 1942.

40. Journalist Connie Chung

In 1993, Connie Chung became the first Chinese American to anchor one of America’s major network newscasts. Chung has won three Emmys and a Peabody for her work during a trailblazing broadcast journalism career that’s included on-air positions at CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN.

39. Aviator Hazel Ying Lee

Hazel Ying Lee became the first Chinese American woman to fly for the United States military when she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots in 1943. She died on November 25, 1944, after a runway collision in Great Falls, Montana.

38. The Mississippi Delta Chinese

The first Chinese immigrants came to the Mississippi Delta soon after the Civil War, with more arriving during the early 1900s. After quickly souring on farming work, many opened grocery stores throughout the region, mostly in the African-American communities where they lived.

37. Entrepreneur Jerry Yang

Jerry Yang, with co-founder David Filo, incorporated Yahoo! on March 2, 1995, while a graduate student at Stanford University. Yahoo! grew rapidly throughout the late 1990s and became one of the most important web portals of the dot-com era.

36. Pioneer Polly Bemis

Polly Bemis arrived in the United States from China in 1872 and eventually settled near the Salmon River in Warren, Idaho, where she became a pioneering miner, fisherwoman and boarding house operator — an iconic character in Wild West lore.

35. Physician Rolland Lowe

Community physician Rolland Lowe cared for more than 20,000 patients in more than four decades practicing medicine in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He helped form the Chinese Community Health Care Association and founded the Chinese American Community Foundation.

34. 1968 San Francisco State Strike

In November 1968 at San Francisco State, Chinese American students joined the Third World Liberation Front and the Black Student Union for a five month strike demanding diverse representation and historical accuracy in academia. The movement led to the establishment of the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies.

33. Chef Martin Yan

The celebrated host of more than 2,000 cooking shows broadcast in over 50 countries, chef Martin Yan became a fixture in American homes with his signature series Yan Can Cook during the 1980s. Yan is the author of more than 25 cookbooks including Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking and Martin Yan’s China.

32. Author Maxine Hong Kingston

After a literary career spanning such important works as China Men, The Woman Warrior and The Fifth Book of Peace, author Maxine Hong Kingston was awarded the National Medals of Arts, the nation’s highest honor given for achievements in the arts, in 2014.

31. Basketball Player Jeremy Lin

On February 4, 2012, Jeremy Lin scored 25 points in a 99-92 New York Knicks victory, igniting a streak of success on the basketball court that would create a national phenomenon known as Linsanity. His run included scoring 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden.

30. Entrepreneur Steve Chen

Steve Chen, with partners Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, co-founded the popular video sharing website YouTube in February 2005. Just a year and a half later, the site was sold to Google for $1.65 billion.

29. Activist Philip Choy

A pioneering advocate for the Chinese American community, Philip Choy co-taught America’s first college level course on Chinese American history with Him Mark Lai in 1969 at San Francisco State University. Choy served on the boards of the Chinese Historical Society and the Chinatown Community Development Corporation.

28. Thomas Jefferson’s Chinese Architecture

Statesman Thomas Jefferson was well-versed in Chinese literature and sought to incorporate elements of Chinese culture into American life during the country’s formative age. Perhaps this is best expressed at Monticello and Jefferson’s other estates where visitors can find Chinese railings, latticework and garden styles throughout the grounds.

27. Figure Skater Michelle Kwan

A two-time Olympic medalist, five-time World Champion and nine-time United States Champion, figure skater Michelle Kwan captivated audiences for over a decade at the turn of the 21st century. She remains the most decorated figure skater in American history.

26. Physicist Steven Chu

The co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1997, Steven Chu served as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Energy from 2009 through 2013. Since 2000, he has devoted an increasing portion of his scientific work to the search for new solutions to our energy and climate challenges.

25. Historian Him Mark Lai

Known as “the dean of Chinese American studies” for his many years as a historian, writer, and community activist, Him Mark Lai helped lay the foundation for ethnic studies in this country. His preservation and circulation of historical resources in Chinese and English opened the field of Asian American studies to scholars across the United States.

24. The Chinese American Citizens Alliance

The oldest Chinese American civil rights organization in the United States, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance was founded in 1895 as the Native Sons of the Golden State. Among its many community development efforts, the Alliance published The Chinese Times for over 60 years — at one point it was the largest Chinese language newspaper in the country.

23. Speaking Chinese in the White House

Herbert Hoover is the only U.S. President to speak Chinese with proficiency, a skill acquired while living with his wife in Tianjin in 1899. The couple spoke Mandarin in the White House when they did not want others to understand their conversation.

22. Director Wayne Wang

Award winning director Wayne Wang had his first breakthrough in 1982 with the independent classic Chan is Missing. He’s best known for directing Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (1985), Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989), and The Joy Luck Club (1993).

21. Architect I.M. Pei

Renowned architect I.M. has designed over fifty projects in the United States and abroad, many of them award-winning. His most iconic works include the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Le Grand Louvre in Paris, the Bank of China building in Hong Kong and the Jacob Javits Center in New York.

20. Horticulturalist Lue Gim Gong

In De Land, FL, Lue Gim Gong developed the frost-resistant orange in 1888 that gave birth to Florida’s citrus industry. The “Lue Gim Gong” variety is still grown today, sold under the general name, “Valencia.”

19. Chow

Chow is one of many English words used in the United States that’s actually Chinese. This use of this slang for “food” dates back to 1856 in California and comes from the Cantonese verb chao, which means “to stir-fry” or “to cook.”

18. Remembering Vincent Chin

The murder of 27 year old Chinese American Vincent Chin in 1982 is remembered for its brutality and the travesty of justice in the sentence his killers received: probation and a $3,000 fine. By rallying a diverse community caught in the crosshairs of hate and exclusion, Chin’s memory galvanized the contemporary movement for Asian American civil and political rights.

17. Artist Tyrus Wong

Tyrus Wong, who lived to the age of 106, was the lead artist on the Walt Disney classic, Bambi. After toiling for years in obscurity due to discrimination, Mr. Wong gained renown late in life and became one of the most celebrated Chinese American artists of the 20th century.

16. Angel Island Poetry

Between 1910 and 1940, as many as 175,000 Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at Angel Island. While they waited in a prison-like atmosphere, many etched beautiful, melancholic poems on the immigration station’s walls. “The day I am rid of this prison and become successful,” one wrote, “I must remember that this chapter once existed.”

15. Actor Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee introduced a generation of Americans to martial arts through big screen hits like Enter the Dragon, Fist of Fury and The Big Boss, as China was just reopening to the world in the 1970s. With his success, Bruce Lee paved the way for contemporary martial arts movie stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

14. Monterey Park

An influx of new immigrants during the 1980s created concentrated suburban Chinese American communities for the first time. The largest, Monterey Park in southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, would soon contain the largest suburban concentration of ethnic Chinese in the United States.

13. Locke, CA

Founded in 1915, Locke, CA, is the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese. During its heyday, Locke had more than 600 residents with restaurants, bakeries and boarding houses catering to the farm workers of the region.

12. World War II Service

During World War II, more than 20,000 of the country’s 80,000 Chinese Americans enlisted in the armed forces, a far higher percentage than any other American ethnic community and twice the overall national rate.

11. Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs

Chinese Americans helped build Silicon Valley’s high tech industries during the 1980s. Innovators included David Lam and David Wang with microchips, John Tu and David Sun with memory storage, and Pehong Chen and Charles Wang with computer software.

10. Activist Yick Wo

Following the complaint of a Chinese laundry owner, Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886) first established that a race-neutral law administered in a prejudicial manner is an infringement of the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment.

9. Actress Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American movie star. After rising to fame with “exotic” roles in films like The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Daughter of the Dragon (1931), Wong later advocated for better film portrayals of Chinese Americans.

8. Architect Maya Lin

Born in Ohio to immigrant parents, architect and artist Maya Lin is best known for designing the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, DC. The latter design was an outgrowth of a class project during her senior year at Yale University.

7. Taishan Remittances

Early Chinese immigrants from the Gold Rush era made impressive financial contributions to their homeland. By the early 1930s, remittances to the Taishan region in southern China from the United States constituted fully one eighth of all money China received from abroad.

6. The Delta Reclamation

Turning swampland into farmland, Chinese laborers reclaimed California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for agricultural use during the 1870s. Today, the Delta remains one of the most productive farming regions in the United States.

5. Researcher David Ho

Starting in the 1980s, David’s Ho’s contributions to HIV/AIDS research may be the most significant of any individual’s to date. For his groundbreaking research, including the discovery that the virus rapidly reproduces itself almost immediately after infection, Time magazine named Dr. Ho its 1996 “Man of the Year.”

4. Chinese Rail Workers

Among their many achievements, Chinese rail workers set a record during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad by completing more than 10 miles of track within twelve hours and forty-five minutes. So great was the effort that each rail handler lifted 125 tons of iron during the day.

3. Activist Wong Kim Ark

On March 28, 1898, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Wong Kim Ark, affirming the Fourteenth Amendment protection that grants American citizenship to all children born in the United States. Chinese Americans filed thousands of lawsuits fighting for their civil rights during the Exclusion Era.

2. Chinese Gold Miners

The Chinese were the most efficient placer miners during the California gold rush. Their use of the rocker, waterwheel and bucket-pulley system allowed them to rework claims thought to be unproductive and thus abandoned by other miners.

1. The Next Generation!

Chinese Americans have made significant contributions to the prosperity, welfare, and advancement of the United States, from the fight for civil and immigrant rights to the infrastructure projects that built the American west. On the shoulders of these accomplishments, the next chapter remains for us to write. What will we do with these tools to dream?

16 Responses

  1. Carolyn M Wilhelm

    What an excellent idea. The picture of each person adds so much to this informational post. Thank you very much for this inspiring and well-done post!

    • Wes Radez

      Thanks for those kind words, Carolyn. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. ~Wes

  2. Meghan

    I enjoy your posts so much! Growing up in Oregon, I learned much about early Chinese Americans in Portland, John Day and the Columbia Gorge. Now I live in Xi’an China.

    PLEASE- a T-shirt with your papercut of a dog!


    • Wes Radez

      Thanks for that, Meghan. It really is fun digging deeper and deeper into the history! I’ll look into the t-shirt. Hope you’re having a great experience in Xi’an! ~Wes

  3. Sheila

    I hope children’s author and illustrator Grace Lin will be on the list.

    • Wes Radez

      Thanks for your suggestion, Sheila. We’re big Grace Lin fans in this house! ~Wes

  4. Amanda Miss Panda

    What a fantastic list! I truly enjoy it! I am looking forward to more. With many Asian American authors, I would also add Wendy Wan-Long Shang, the author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. She tells a wonderful story for older children who are learning their heritage culture. Also, Mia Wenjen, the co-founder of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, has been promoting the cross-cultural understanding with the power of books and reading for parents and educators since 2014.

    • Wes Radez

      Thanks so much! Big fan of both Wendy and Mia! Hope you enjoy the entire list as it rolls out! ~Wes

  5. Sandra Chun

    You missed putting Senator Hiram Fong from the state of Hawaii. I belive he was the first Chinese American to have been in the United States Congress.

  6. Dave C

    This list was AMAZING!! I learned quite a few interesting things. In particular I love how entrenched Chinese Americans have been since the founding of the nation. And how some very “American” words were actually borrowed from Chinese vernacular. To be American is to be Chinese and to be Chinese is to be American 🙂

  7. ivana

    I am not Chinese, but I loved how informative this article was! It was absolutely incredible, I read the whole article and truly loved it. I also really loved your other cooking and educational posts. From someone not Chinese, but maybe in another life or time, you have a wonderful website and this was such a lovely idea.

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