The Power of Representation
Since 1992, the month of May has been designated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month. The United States is a country of immigrants. Everyone, save for the Native Americans, comes from somewhere else. We’re living in a time where many influential people are desperate to rewrite history. Repression, denial and flat-out lies permeate society and its desire to erase facts. Exact sciences like math being challenged to the point where 2 plus 2 no longer equals 4. It’s now up for interpretation. Education no longer being seen as a ticket to freedom. We now live in a world where likes and subscribers determine ones worth. A facade with zero substance. Demolishing humanity.
I’m exhausted. It’s been a draining week. Saturdays racist attack in Buffalo, NY, 18 yr old racist gunman kills 10 in Buffalo Supermarket, while now commonplace and not surprising, still feels soul-draining. Constantly having to remind oneself to get up and keep going, drawing on the strength of my ancestors. Not allowing stress and fear to overtake me. Simple things, like going outside to do errands or wearing the wrong clothes or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a result, it breeds reluctance, depression and a longing to just give up. I have no solutions, I just keep praying.
I refuse to turn this blog into my personal diary. At the same time, I feel guilty not using this platform as “saying something when I see something.” The N Word, The Power of Voting, and Racism never takes a day off, are well written blogs that I recommend, if you have the time. However, I will remain steadfast in acquiring knowledge, as its power holds no boundaries and strengthens me. Now more so than ever.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
First of all, I had no idea that the month of May was AAPI Heritage month. These commemorative months seem like governmental implementations to make America feel good about itself. Forgetting the actual repression and violent cruelty that are apart of its history. Introduced as a proposal for a week-long celebration by Senator Daniel Inouye, of Hawaii, in 1978, it was expanded to a full month under President Bill Clinton in 1992. Meant to celebrate the AAPI culture and their enormous contributions to America. May 7 and 10 being important dates. To commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the US on May 7, 1843. In addition, to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, built by Chinese immigrants, on May 10, 1869.
While doing research, I found there to be so much prominence from the AAPI culture and their contributions that I didn’t know about. For example, Dr Chien-Shiung Wu. (1912-1997). Known as the Chinese Marie Curie and the First Lady of Physics, this Suzhou, Chinese born, University of California, Berkeley graduate, worked on the Manhattan Project. The first woman to serve as the President of the American Physical Society, this experimental physicist made significant contributions in the field of nuclear and particle physics. She helped develop the process for separating Uranium into Uranium-235 isotopes. As my mother would say, “Heavy Upstairs.”
Kamala Devi Harris (1964-) is the highest ranking female official in US history and the first Asian and African American Vice President of the United States. Born in Oakland, California and a graduate of HBCU Howard University, this former Attorney General of California was the also the first South Asian American woman to serve in the United States Senate. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a Tamil Indian Biologist, arrived from India in 1958 as a 19-year old graduate student. She would go on to work on breast cancer research. Her father, Donald J Harris, of Afro-Jamaican decent, is a Stanford University professor emeritus of economics.
Architect I.M. Pei
Renowned Chinese American legend I.M. Pei, (1917-2019), from Guangzhou, full name is Ieoh Ming Pei, which roughly translates to “to make an indelible mark.” A graduate of both MIT and Harvard University, he became an American citizen in 1954. Pictured above in front of his most famous design, The glass pyramid of the Louvre, Paris, Pei is one of the key architects who has defined city skylines around the world. This global visionary is responsible for the John F Kennedy Memorial Library, Bank of China Tower and the Museum of Islamic Art to name a few. The Architecture of I.M. Pei.
Wong Liu-tsong, also known as Anna Mae Wong (1905-1961), was considered the first Chinese-American movie star. Born in Los Angeles to Taishanese Chinese-American parents, she fought massive discrimination in Hollywood to star in movies from silent films, (1924, Thief of Bagdad), to talkies, (1932, Shanghai Express). She was also a fashion icon, being one of the first to embrace the flapper look. Her biggest career disappointment came in 1932, when Louis B Mayer of MGM, declined to cast her as the lead in Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth. Instead, he cast actress Luise Ranier to play the role in yellowface. She spent many years in Europe, where she starred in plays and movies. Never married, it is rumored she had an affair with actress Marlene Dietrich.
Born in Paris and educated in New York City, child prodigy, Yo-Yo Ma, yo-yoma.com, is an American cellist. He began performing at the age of four and a half. A graduate of the Julliard School and Harvard University, he has recorded more than 90 albums and received 19 Grammy awards. A United Nations Messenger of Peace since 2006, he was named Time magazines 100 most influential people in the world in 2020. Often singled out for his humble spirit, self-effacing manner and humanitarianism, he has been married to Jill Hornor, an arts consultant, since 1978. They are the proud parents of Nicholas and Emily Ma.
The first woman born in India to enter space, Kalpana Chawla, (1962-2003), was an engineer and astronaut who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997. Despite the objections of her professors in India who thought she had no future in the field, she came to the United States to obtain her masters in aerospace engineering. She was selected among thousands of applicants to join the NASA Astronaut Corps and served as a mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator. She died tragically on her second trip on the Columbia when the shuttle broke apart while re-entering the atmosphere, along with the rest of the crew, in 2003. She is considered a national hero in India.
Cecilia Chung, Activist
57 year-old Hong Kong native Cecilia Chung (1965), is a longtime advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants and people living with HIV/AIDS. Coming to the US as a teenager in 1984, her life fell apart in 1992, when she came out as transgender. Disowned by her family, she lost her job, became homeless, turned to sex work and endured physical and sexual violence. After a life threatening injury landed her in the hospital, she reconciled with her family and her life stabilized. She is the architect of the nation’s most ambitious publicly funded program addressing economic justice within the transgender community. Additionally, she help founded the Trans March, one of the biggest annual transgender events in the world.
Chef, restauranteur, author and television personality, Joyce Chen, (1917-1994),was blazing the trail for Chinese cooking in America long before the Food Network. Born in Beijing, China, her family fled the country as communists were taking over. Settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she opened the first Joyce Chen restaurant in 1958, pioneering the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet concept. Credited with introducing dishes to this country such as, potstickers, Peking duck, moo shu pork and hot and sour soup, her restaurants and cookbooks remain some of the most popular and favorites of people like Julia Child. Dying of cardiac arrest in 1994, her son, Stephen still runs Joyce Chen foods Inc.
Margaret Moran Cho, (1968), is a Korean-American actress, musician and stand-up comedian. Growing up in the racially diverse neighborhood of Ocean Beach, San Francisco, her parents, Young-Hie and Seung-Hoon, ran a bookstore on Polk street in the city. At age 15, she worked as a phone sex operator and later as a dominatrix. She went to San Francisco State, did not graduate and became one of the most successful Asian American performers in show business. She has won numerous awards for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of women, Asian Americans and the LGBTQ+ community.
Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson
Widely regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson, is at the top of Hollywood’s A-list movie stars. A net worth of $320 million, this Hayward, CA, native was raised in Hawaii. Attending the University of Miami, with aspirations of professional football, he went undrafted in 1995. Turning to wrestling like his father, Rocky and maternal grandfather, Peter Malvia, he became WWF’s (now WWE) biggest star. His father is Black Nova Scotian and his mother is Samoan. Dwayne’s films have grossed over 10.5 billion and counting. He’s a proud father to three children and renowned for his generosity and professionalism.
Undeniably, this listicle doesn’t even scratch the surface of excellence in the AAPI community. 175 popular AAPI achievers. Conventional wisdom dictates that, because we all come from somewhere else, common ground should be easily established among all Americans. However, such is not the case in 2022. No matter the month, pursuing the facts of history runs, like a river, throughout our DNA. It’s a part of who we are and who we hope to become. Inclusion, the practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. Have we gone to far inward? Are we too late? Not as long as I draw air, that’s for sure.
Is Inclusion gone for good?