By Amanda Moses
May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a commemorative period when we recognize the numerous and influential contributions Asians have made as well as honoring their history, culture, and traditions. AAPI is a more inclusive term, since it encompasses the entire continent of Asia as well members of the Pacific Islands, such as Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
Former President Jimmy Carter proclaimed a weeklong celebration for Asian American Pacific Islanders beginning on May 4, 1979, and several decades later in 1992, this expanded into a month-long tribute. The month of May was chosen due to its significance when the first Japanese immigrants moved to the United States on May 7, 1843. This month is also the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion, which was built primarily by Chinese immigrants in 1869.
In honor of this month-long celebration, the Spring Creek Sun is highlighting extraordinary AAPI individuals to showcase the trailblazers who’ve broken through many racial barriers and paved the way for a more inclusive future.
Anandi Gopal Joshi (1865-1887) was the first female of Indian origin to earn a medical degree in the United States. Joshi was born in Maharashtra, India. She moved to the United States at age 19 and began her medical education at Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She graduated on March 11, 1886, and her thesis was entitled, “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos.” Upon her graduation, Queen Vitoria sent Joshi a congratulatory message and she received a hero’s welcome when she arrived back to India in 1886. Joshi passed away at the age of 22.
Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007) was the first female to lead a Muslim nation, serving as a prime minister of Pakistan (1988-1990 and 1993-1996). Bhutto attended Harvard University and the University of Oxford. She was a liberal thinker and co-chaired the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). She attempted to create reform in Pakistan, but her efforts were stifled by conservative forces. In October 2007, upon returning from a self-imposed exile from Dubai, Bhutto was assassinated in December while campaigning for election in parliament. One of her platforms emphasized a civilian oversight of the military and opposition to Islamic violence.
Anna May Wong (1905-1961) was the first Chinese American film star to receive acclaim in Hollywood. She performed in many silent and technicolor films, such as the Bits of Life, the Toll of the Sea, and Madame Butterfly. Wong was always typecast and featured in supportive rolls. She faced continuous discrimination, but still fought to have serious rolls that were not stereotypical. Wong died on February 3, 1961 of a heart attack. She received a postmortem Asian-American Arts Award, and the Asian Fashion Designers named their annual award ceremony after her.
I.M. Pei (1917-2019) was a Chinese American architect who was renowned for his seamless building designs. He studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1939. Since he was unable to return back to China during World War II, he worked under the National Defense Research Committee. He received his master’s degree from the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University in 1946, and then joined the architectural division of Webb & Knapp in New York City. Pei is known for his work designing: Luce Memorial Chapel in Taiwan, The Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, John F. Kenney International Airport’s terminal in New York, the East Building within the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library at Harvard University.
Vice President Kamala Harris (born in 1964) is the first female, African American and Asian American to hold this position. She is an attorney and politician, who served as the District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General and United States Senator. Her father was from Jamaica, and her mother was from India, both emigrated to the United States. Harris graduated from Howard University, University of California, and Hastings College of Law. Harris has notably said that her mother, Shyamala Gopalan greatly influenced and inspired her. Her mother was a breast cancer scientist.
Chloé Zhao (born in 1982) is the first woman of color and second woman to ever receive an Academy Award for Best Director for her film Nomadland. Zhao was born in Beijing, and her award-winning film stared Oscar winner Frances McDormand. She is primarily known for her independent films, and first feature was Songs My Brother Taught Me, which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the Independent Spirit Award.
Naomi Osaka (born in 1997) is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion as is from Osaka, Japan. She is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles, and has been ranked as No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association. Her Japanese mother and Haitian father moved to New York City when she was three years old, and she is now based in Florida. She has faced and beat several great tennis players many years her senior, including Serena Williams.
H.E.R (born in 1997), also known as Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson is an award-winning singer and songwriter. With the stage name H.E.R, which stands for Having Everything Revealed, she has won an Academy Award this year for her song, “Fight for You”, which was featured in the film Judas and the Black Messiah.