VOA Special English
Hollywood Actress Becomes First Asian American on US Currency


    The late movie star Anna May Wong has become the first Asian American pictured on United States money.

    Wong worked in Hollywood during a time of open racism and stereotyping of actors. During her career, Wong also became the first Asian American woman to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California.

    Wong's face and hand are shown on a new version of the American quarter, a coin worth 25 cents. The United States Mint recently announced Wong is part of a five-part series of quarters released as part of its American Women Quarter Program.

    Chinese American actor Anna May Wong, whose first film appearance was in 1922 was Chinese Parrot, appears on Jan. 22, 1946. (AP Photo/Carl Nesensohn, File)
    Chinese American actor Anna May Wong, whose first film appearance was in 1922 was "Chinese Parrot," appears on Jan. 22, 1946. (AP Photo/Carl Nesensohn, File)

    Wong was born in 1905 in Los Angeles as Wong Liu Tsong. She was cast in her first part, or role, as an extra in the film The Red Lantern in 1919. At the time, she was just 14 years old. She got her first leading role in 1922 in the movie The Toll of the Sea.

    She went on to appear in more than 60 films, including one of the first movies Hollywood released in color. Wong became the first Asian American lead actor in an American television show for her role in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong in 1951.

    Even with her success, Wong faced anti-Asian discrimination and racism in Hollywood where she was typecast and underpaid. She was repeatedly passed up for leading roles, forcing her to go to Europe to act in films. Wong also moved to London and New York to perform in theater. She died in 1961.

    Ventris Gibson is director of the U.S. Mint. She called Wong a "courageous" supporter of "increased representation and more multidimensional roles for Asian American actors."

    Others chosen for the American Women Quarter Program include writer and civil rights champion Maya Angelou and astronaut Sally Ride. Ride became the first American woman to fly in space.

    Anna May Wong's niece, who shares the name Anna Wong, told The Associated Press she was surprised, but pleased, when she learned how her aunt was being honored.

    Wong was able to cooperate with the U.S. Mint on the coin's design. She noted that many excellent artists came up with different versions of the coin during the creative process. "I actually pulled out a quarter to look at the size to try and imagine how the images would transfer over to real life," Wong said.

    The choice of Wong has excited many Asian Americans inside and outside of Hollywood.

    Arthur Dong wrote the book Hollywood Chinese. He said the quarter feels like a confirmation of the contributions made to America not only by Wong, but other Asian Americans as well.

    "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."

    Wong's niece and others will take part in an event with the U.S. Mint on November 4 at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. One of Wong's movies, Shanghai Express, will be shown.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    The Associated Press and Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    stereotype – n. a fixed idea that people have about what a particular kind of person is like, especially an idea that is wrong

    typecast v. always giving an auto the same kind of character to play, usually because he or she is physically suited to that kind of part

    courageous adj. having of showing courage: the ability to control your fear in dangerous or difficult situations

    multidimensional adj. having many different features

    transfer v. to move someone or something from one place to another

    contribution n. something given to a cause of effort together with other people

    curious adj. interested in learning about people or things around you