Monday, May 31, 2004


As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2004 closes, I'd like to spotlight APAs that have paved the way for APAs today and changed the world with their talent, creativity and leadership. Here are some Asian Americans that made a difference...

Anna May Wong actor
The first Asian American actor in film, television and Broadway, her career began in 1921, with roles opposite Marlene Dietrich and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

Chinese Railroad Builders pioneers
They are the unsung heroes and pioneers who built the Transcontinental Railroads between 1865 and 1869 that connected America, and changed the ways Americans lived.

Fred Korematsu activist
He challenged the forced internment of Japanese Americans and lost in a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1944, but finally vindicated in 1998 when President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Maya Lin architect, designer
At 21, she designed America's most emotional memorial, beating world-class architectural firms, to create what is considered the finest work of art - the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Maxine Hong Kingston author, educator
Her books are considered the most widely-read books on college campuses because she is a mesmerizing storyteller, renown author and insightful educator.

Chang-Lin Tien educator, activist
He was the first the Asian American chancellor of a major research institution - UC Berkeley - who fought for equality in education and roared "Go Bears" melodically. Tien died in October 2002.

Connie Chung news pioneer
She was the leading Asian American anchor on network news, and only the second woman, behind Barbara Walters, to sit behind the desk of a network evening news show.

David Ho researcher
Named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1996 for his advances in AIDS research, he helped create a vaccine that dramatically increased mortality.

Margaret Cho actor, activist
In 1994, she was the first Asian American lead of a prime-time network television series, starring in ABC's All-American Girl.

Gary Locke politician
He was elected governor of Washington in 1996 and was reelected in 2000, becoming the first Asian American governor in the contiguous United States.

The list represents only a small number of APAs who have made a difference. There are many APAs who are pioneers, including Haing S. Ngor, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1985; Bruce Lee, who gave us a hero; Ann Curry, who is in our living rooms everyday; and Ang Lee, who is a master filmmaker. I urge you to learn more about leading APAs, and share them with me and each other. Until next year!

Monday, May 17, 2004


I started Cuong's Book Club to share books I feel are mesmerizing, riveting and relevant; books that shed light onto our lives. Though continuing that goal, this edition of Cuong's Book Club takes a decidedly APA-angle with books that shed light onto the richness of Asian Pacific America. Take a look at the below:

Strangers From A Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, by Ronald Takaki
Takaki's book is considered the preminent book on APA history. His thoughtful and lyrical rendering traces APA history from the beginning to today's complex social, political, and economic climate. A must-read for anyone interested in APA history.

Making Waves: An Anthology of Writings By and About Asian American Women, by Diane Yen-Mei Wong & Emilya Cachaperoi
A riveting anthology about Asian/Asian American women by Asian American women. It's a powerful, touching and captivating book that explores the richness and diversity of Asian American women and their families. (Ah, whoever has my copy, please return it!).

Fifth Chinese Daughter, by Jade Snow Wong
Originally published in 1945, Jade Snow Wong's account of growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown between two cultures is about self-discovery and identity. The book gets flak for being "stereotypical," but I think there are more layers between the words.

America Is In the Heart: A Personal History, by Carlos Bulosan
The riveting story of a young immigrant man's struggle in America. It is sometimes dark, raw and bittersweet, but Bulosan's voice is mesmerizing and his struggle heartfelt. This is a deeply moving book.

Asian Americans: An Interpretive History, by Sucheng Chan
Though not as widely read as Takaki's book, Sucheng Chan's book is an excellent historical account of Asian America. It is simple and straightforward, but a compelling and thoughtful read. This should be read along with Takaki's book.

The next time you decide to pick up a book, I hope you will consider one of the books featured in this special APA-edition of Cuong's Book Club. Read well!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Oriental. The word means "east." It is not a dirty, repulsive, derogatory word. It is colonial, Euro-centric, placing Europe as the center of the world, and Asia, being east of, as the Orient. But the word oriental, when referring to people of Asian heritage or descent, is a dirty, repulsive, derogatory word.

Oriental wasn't meant to be dirty. As cultures, attitudes, norms and ideas shift throughout time, so do words. Originally used to refer to people "from the east," the word took on nefariousness in the late 1890s when competition for jobs lead to xenophobia, and the word was articulated with a dirty scowl. Lacing the word with images of savage heathens, of sub-class citizens; the same way nigger degrades a race.

Oriental in of itself isn't a dirty word, but history has made it so.

Thursday, May 06, 2004


In 2000, the U.S. Census estimated that there are over 12 million Asian Pacific Americans in America, over 4% of the population. Today, Asian America is rich, diverse, complicated. But for years, legal restrictions have sought to keep APAs out of the U.S. In this entry, I’ve traced 100 years in American history that irrevocably transformed Asian America.

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882:  The act, the only in American history to exclude a group based on race, suspended immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years and later revised to include "all persons of...Chinese race." In 1904, it was extended indefinitely.

The Earthquake of 1906:  When government records in burned in San Francisco's City Hall, many Chinese, to circumvent racist immigration laws, claimed to be natural-born citizens, and thus able to bring their wife and children to America.

Gentlemen's Agreement (1907):  Japan agreed to halt issuing passports to those who wished to emigrate to the U.S., in exchange those already present could bring over their wives. Unlike the Chinese, this allowed the Japanese to set roots in America and develop family structures.

Angel Island Opens:  Between 1910 and 1940, as Europeans came to America through Ellis Island, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at Angel Island in prison-like atmosphere for weeks, months or years.

The National Origins Act of 1924:  The act set up a quota system that only allowed for immigration based on 2% of that ethnic group's 1890 census and created a "Barred Zone," which included all Asian countries. The act virtually eliminated Asian immigration.

Executive Order 9066:  After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the secretary of war to designate military areas "from which any and all persons may be excluded." Japanese Americans were interned in camps. EO 9066 was rescinded in 1976.

Repeal of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (1943):  With China as its ally during World War II, the U.S. could no longer ignore the hypocrisy of its laws toward the Chinese. Thus, Congress repealed all Chinese exclusion laws and allowed for Chinese to become eligible for citizenship.

McCarran-Walter Act of 1952:  The first major immigration legislation since 1924, though it kept the quota system, the act nullified the racial restriction of the Congressional Act of 1790, which only allowed freed whites to be eligible for citizenship. The Japanese were now eligible for naturalization.

The Immigration Act of 1965:  The act eliminated the "national origins" quotas systems used for allocating immigration and created an equal footing for Asian counties. The landscape of America today is a direct result of post-1965 immigration legislations.

The Death of Vincent Chin:  In 1982, Vincent Chin was killed by Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler supervisor, and Michael Nitz, his stepson and recently laid-off automobile industry employee, because they mistook him for being Japanese. Detroit, motor capital, was steeped in unemployment; American auto industry crumbled, Hondas soared. They blamed Vincent. Ebens and Nitz pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were give three years' probation and a fine of $3,000.

There are amazing, breathtaking stories behind these moments and there are more moments that defined and shaped Asian America. This month, I urge you to find out more about The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or the legacy of Vincent Chin. I hope learning about America's history stirs you as it does me.

Saturday, May 01, 2004


May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month - a celebration of the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States. This month, I encourage you to explore the heritage of APAs by visiting a museum, seeing a show, or going to a film festival. Do something to commemorate your fellow Americans.

May was chosen as APA Heritage Month to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in 1843. APA Heritage Month began in 1979 as APA Heritage Week during the first week of May. Two years earlier, Representative Frank Horton (New York) and Norman Mineta (California) introduced a resolution that called upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as APA Heritage Week. The following month, senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both were passed. In October 1978, President Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration. In 1990, President Bush extended the celebration to a month. And in October 1992, Public Law 102-450 designated May of each year as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

This month, to commemorate the achievements and contributions of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States, I will bring you APA-themed entries. Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!