‘Momentous’: Asian Americans laud Anna May Wong’s US quarter

Oct 20, 2022, 1:16 PM | Updated: Oct 21, 2022, 10:18 am

FILE - Chinese American actor Anna May Wong, whose first film appearance was in 1922 was "Chinese P...

FILE - Chinese American actor Anna May Wong, whose first film appearance was in 1922 was "Chinese Parrot," appears on Jan. 22, 1946. More than 60 years after her death, Wong will be the first Asian American to grace U.S. currency. The U.S. Mint announced it will begin shipping quarters with her likeness later this month. (AP Photo/Carl Nesensohn, File)

(AP Photo/Carl Nesensohn, File)

More than 60 years after Anna May Wong became the first Asian American woman to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the pioneering actor has coined another first, quite literally.

With quarters bearing her face and manicured hand set to start shipping Monday, per the U.S. Mint, Wong will be the first Asian American to grace U.S. currency. Few could have been more stunned at the honor than her niece and namesake, Anna Wong, who learned about the American Women Quarters honor from the Mint’s head legal consul.

“From there, it went into the designs and there were so many talented artists with many different renditions. I actually pulled out a quarter to look at the size to try and imagine how the images would transfer over to real life,” Anna Wong wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

The elder Wong, who fought against stereotypes foisted on her by a white Hollywood, is one of five women being honored this year as part of the program. She was chosen for being “a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors,” Mint Director Ventris Gibson said in a statement.

The other icons chosen include writer Maya Angelou; Dr. Sally Ride, an educator and the first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller, the first female elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; and Nina Otero-Warren, a trailblazer for New Mexico’s suffrage movement.

Wong’s achievement has excited Asian Americans inside and outside of the entertainment industry.

Her niece, whose father was Anna May Wong’s brother, will participate in an event with the Mint on Nov. 4 at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. One of Wong’s movies, “Shanghai Express,” will be screened, followed by a panel discussion.

Arthur Dong, the author of “Hollywood Chinese,” said the quarter feels like a validation of not just of Wong’s contributions, but of all Asian Americans’. A star on the Walk of Fame is huge, but being on U.S. currency is a whole other stratosphere of renown.

“What it means is that people all across the nation — and my guess is around the world — will see her face and see her name,” Dong said. “If they don’t know anything about her, they will … be curious and want to learn something about her.”

Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong started acting during the silent film era. While her career trajectory coincided with Hollywood’s first Golden Age, things were not so golden for Wong.

She got her first big role in 1922 in “The Toll of the Sea,” according to Dong’s book. Two years later, she played a Mongol slave in “The Thief of Bagdad.” For several years, she was stuck receiving offers only for femme fatale or Asian “dragon lady” roles.

She fled to European film sets and stages, but Wong was back in the U.S. by the early 1930s and again cast as characters reliant on tropes that would hardly be tolerated today. These roles included the untrustworthy daughter of Fu Manchu in “Daughter of the Dragon” and a sex worker in “Shanghai Express.”

She famously lost out on the lead to white actor Luise Rainer in 1937’s “The Good Earth,” based on the novel about a Chinese farming family. But in 1938, she got to play a more humanized, sympathetic Chinese American doctor in “King of Chinatown.”

The juxtaposition of that film with her other roles is the focus of one day in a monthlong program, “Hollywood Chinese: The First 100 Years,” that Dong is curating at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles in November.

“(‘King of Chinatown’) was part of this multi-picture deal at Paramount that gave her more control, more say in the types of films she was going to be participating in,” he said. “For a Chinese American woman to have that kind of multi-picture deal at Paramount, that was quite outstanding.”

By the 1950s, Wong had moved on to television appearances. She was supposed to return to the big screen in the movie adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” but had to bow out because of illness. She died on Feb. 2, 1961, a year after receiving her star.

Bing Chen, co-founder of the nonprofit Gold House — focused on elevating representation and empowerment of Asian and Asian American content — called the new quarter “momentous.” He praised Wong as a star “for generations.”

But at the same time, he highlighted how anti-Asian hate incidents and the lack of representation in media still persist.

“In a slate of years when Asian women have faced extensive challenges — from being attacked to objectified on screen to being the least likely group to be promoted to corporate management — this currency reinforces what many of us have known all along: (they’re) here and worthy,” Chen said in a statement. “It’s impossible to forget, though, as a hyphenated community, that Asian Americans constantly struggle between being successful and being seen.”

Asian American advocacy groups outside of the entertainment world also praised the new quarters. Norman Chen, CEO of The Asian American Foundation, plans to seek the coins out to show to his parents.

“For them to see an Asian American woman on a coin, I think it’d be really powerful for them. It’s a dramatic symbol of how we are so integral to American society yet still seen in stereotypical ways,” he said. “But my parents will look at this. They will be pleasantly surprised and proud.”

To sum it up, Chen said, it’s a huge step: “Nothing is more American than our money.”


Terry Tang is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that r...

Associated Press

Arizona Senate passes plan to manage rural groundwater, but final success is uncertain

A plan to manage rural groundwater passed the Arizona Senate amid concerns about the availability of sufficient water for future generations.

1 day ago

A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

2 days ago

This undated image provided by Mikel Desmond shows his brother Marcus Tessier, who turned up in Dem...

Associated Press

Missing teen with autism found in New Mexico, about 200 miles away from his Arizona home

A missing teen with autism has been found in New Mexico — about 200 miles away from his home in southern Arizona.

2 days ago

A newly released report on last year’s fatal crash involving a pickup truck and a group of bicycl...

Associated Press

Report suggests steering of vehicle that caused fatal Goodyear bicycle crash worked fine

A new report on last year’s fatal Goodyear bicycle crash has cast doubts about the driver’s claim the vehicle’s steering locked up.

3 days ago

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

5 days ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

‘Momentous’: Asian Americans laud Anna May Wong’s US quarter