Anna May Wong coins the term ‘Asian American pioneer’

Anna May Wong was a trail-blazer for Asian-American representation in the American media. She continues her legacy through a 25-cent U.S. coin.

Iris Kim

Anna May Wong was a trail-blazer for Asian-American representation in the American media. She continues her legacy through a 25-cent U.S. coin.

From the onset of her career, Anna May Wong refused to tread lightly.

The Chinese-American film star, with over 60 works under her name, challenged the stereotypical roles offered to her by the American entertainment industry’s giants and constructed a mold separate from what the discriminatory Hollywood directors asked of her. 

Wong’s legacy for U.S. citizens of Asian descent, whether Chinese or not, endures even 61 years past her day of death.

I recognize the actress as a pioneer for diversified, non-typecast representations of the Asian community within the entertainment industry: the U.S. Mint further recognizes Wong as the first Asian American to be featured on a U.S. coin. 

The U.S. Mint launched the Wong quarter Nov. 4 nationwide — a monumental step toward expanding the recognition of Asian Americans as actresses, teachers and doctors – and as humans. 

Asian Americans in the U.S. endured a copious quantity of racial remarks and insults hurled toward them throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the Stop Asian Hate campaign in the limelight. Such anti-Asian sentiment, though, has long existed — Wong even acknowledged it in a 1933 magazine interview.

“Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain-murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass,” Wong said. “We are not like that.”

The coin, though long overdue, reflects Wong’s advocacy for greater representation of Asian Americans within film and media. 

Asian Americans should no longer be typecast as the quiet mathematician or the sneaky villain: with Wong’s 25-cent coin, I anticipate a transformation in the climate of the U.S.

So maybe next time my fellow Asian Americans get quarters in change, be on the lookout for Wong and be proud of what we have accomplished.