Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
by Cheryl Ann Aranda
Jersey City takes great pride in having one of the most diverse populations in the United States. Our array of ethnicities and cultures is a prime component to the success and progress of this city. Every summer, we celebrate the cultural heritage of our neighbors and their contributions through the Tapestry of Nations Ethnic Festivals.
Most Asians I know look forward to these events, especially the India Festival and the Philippine-American Friendship Day Parade. Former residents and visitors from different states travel great distances to attend Jersey City’s celebrations.
I was not aware, however, that May is recognized across the nation as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I’ve heard of Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month. What do you know, we have our own month! Kudos to us!
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month commemorates the contributions of people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the United States. A joint Congressional Resolution was passed in 1978 establishing Asian American Heritage Week as the first week of May, because two important anniversaries occur during this time. On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in America and on May 10, 1869, Chinese laborers completed the last links of the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1980, Congress voted to expand the observance to a full month by declaring May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Throughout much of our history people of Asian Pacific descent have helped shape and enrich our nation. Over the generations, Asian Pacific Americans have grown to more than 14.4 million. From cabinet secretaries to astronauts, Asian Pacific Americans have not only thrived, but they have also broken racial barriers and stereotypes. When Congressman Dalip Singh Saund (D-Ca) represented California’s 29th district from 1957 until 1963, he not only became the first Asian Pacific American to hold a seat in Congress, he was the first Indian American and the first Sikh, as well. Two years later he was followed by Patsy Takemoto Mink. The first female Asian Pacific American and the first woman of color to serve in the U.S. Congress, Mink represented Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District from 1965-1976 and again from 1990-2002, for a total of 31 years.
The first Asian Pacific American mayor of a major U.S. city, San Jose, and co-founder of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressman Norman Yoshio Mineta was also one of the driving forces behind the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for and redressed the injustices endured by Japanese Americans interred by the United States during World War II. As Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton and then Secretary of Transportation under George W. Bush, Mineta became the first Asian Pacific American to hold a Cabinet position. In 2001, Mineta was joined by the first female Asian Pacific American Cabinet Member, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
In 1932, Katherine Sui Fun Cheung became the first licensed female Asian Pacific American aviator. So adept was she at flying, she became a stunt pilot barnstorming her way up and down the California coast performing loops, barrel rolls, and spiral dives. In 1936, Cheung was invited to join 99 Club, the prestigious women pilots organization founded by Amelia Earhart.
In a decades long career, actress Anna May Wong, the daughter of second generation Chinese American parents, became not only the first Chinese American film star, but she also went on to become the first International Asian Pacific American film star. In 2007, her story was told in the documentary Anna May Wong, Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times, and Legend, produced by Elaine Mae Woo and narrated by actress Nancy Kwan.
While he was trained as both a surgeon and gynecologist in Cambodia, Dr. Haing S. Ngor is best known for his role as Dith Pran in the 1985 film, The Killing Fields, for which he recieved an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
In 1901, chemist Jokichi Takamine isolated and purified the hormone adrenalin in his laboratory, becoming the first person to accomplish this for a glandular hormone. This discovery paved the way for modern bronchodilators, which are used to treat asthma, as well as the invention of the life saving EpiPen, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions or anaphlactic shock.
An Wang was a Chinese born American inventor and business executive who developed the technology needed for the core magnetic imaging system used in computer memories and electronic calculators. He was also the founder of Wang Laboratories.
Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal is a virologist and molecular biologist who is credited with co-discovering Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as the cause of Acquired Immunodeficiency (AIDS) along with Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier in 1984. She successfully cloned HIV in 1985 and was among the first people to complete the genetic mapping of the virus. She is currently researching a vaccine for HIV and a cure for AIDS.
Physicist Mani Lal Bhaumik is a physicist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who led the team which developed the world's first efficient excimer laser, which is used in Lasik eye surgery. He is the founder of the Calcutta based Bhaumik Educational Foundation, which provides full scholarships to needy students who want to study science or technology. He was chosen as the sole patron for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) 2009.
Congress Recognizes Filipino WWII Veterans
Most recently, Filipino Veterans achieved a bitter sweet victory when on February 17, 2009 President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill which, among other things, authorized a $198-million benefits package for Filipinos who fought under the U.S. flag in World War II. After 62 years, the inclusion of Filipino veterans’ equity benefits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 finally recognized the heroism of Filipino soldiers during wartime.
It is estimated that more than 475,000 Filipinos fought in the U.S. military during World War II. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised they would be given the same rights and benefits as U.S. veterans after the war. President Harry S. Truman reneged on Roosevelt’s promise when he signed the Rescission Act of 1946.
The veterans’ provision was introduced by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D, HI). A veteran who had lost an arm fighting for the United States in World War II, Inouye had long been a champion of equity for Filipino veterans. In the 1990s, Inouye introduced a measure to rescind the Rescission Act and grant Filipino veterans the benefits they had earned. In a statement to the Senate, he claimed that the inclusion is a “step further to right this wrong by passing this bill.” In 2002, Inouye also supported the “Health Care for Filipino World War II Veterans Act.”
Under President Obama’s stimulus plan, Filipino veterans residing in the U.S. will receive a one time lump sum payment of $15,000, while those residing in the Philippines will receive $9,000.
Filipino veterans who fought gallantly against Japanese invading forces to attain freedom are finally being recognized for their heroic efforts both in their homeland of the Philippines and in the United States.
On The Local Scene
Although Francisco Guilledo was not a resident, it was in Jersey City that a great athlete from the Philippines emerged and went on to achieve world fame. Known under the stage name as Pancho Villa, Guilledo would be dubbed the greatest Asian boxer long before Manny Pacquiao or even Gabriel "Flash" Elorde made the headlines. In Jersey City, in his first overseas fight, Villa beat Abe Attel Goldstein on June 7, 1922. He later fought Frankie Genaro, and would go on to the World Flyweight Boxing Championship by knocking out Jimmy Wilde in the seventh round on June 18, 1923 at the New York Polo Grounds.
Alfredo Diaz, 92, a resident of Jersey City, is the New Jersey veteran coordinator of American Coalition for Filipino Veterans Inc. A defender in the Battle for Bataan, he escaped capture by the Japanese and avoided the Death March in 1942. Diaz is currently the oldest living Filipino veteran in Jersey City who fought in World War II. Mr. Diaz has been in the forefront in fighting for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill.
Paolo Montalban is a Jersey City actor who has starred in Broadway and off-Broadway productions and who has appeared on TV. He played Prince Charming in the 1997 TV version of Cinderella, co-starring with pop singers Brandy and Whitney Houston. Paolo made his Broadway debut in The King and I. He went on to roles in Broadway and off Broadway theater productions. He later won a lead role in the TV show Mortal Kombat: Conquest, where he played Kung Lao. Montalban was named one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" of 1998.
Raju Patel, President of the Jersey City Asian Merchant Association and Foundation Director, is also a community leader who raises funds for the Hudson County Community College Scholarship fund and schools for the poor in India.