Asian American trailblazers

More Awesome Asian Americans: 20 Citizens who Energized America

Written by Phil Amara and Oliver Chin, and illustrated by Juan Calle. (San Francisco: Immedium, 2022, 132 pp., $17.95, paperback). Reading ages 5-14 years

 “In 2050 minorities will become the majority in America.” But we still have a long way to go. Here’s a book describing 20 “Awesome” Asian American trailblazers who are paving the way in diverse fields. Many of them, however, are not household names.
Juan Calle’s illustrations are especially engaging, and make you want to know much more about the person.

George Takei, actor
In 1966, actor George Takei was a young man looking for a break. “Star Trek” looked promising. Featuring two lieutenants, a Black woman, and helmsman Hikaru Sulu, the ensemble explored an equitable future, free of the pain of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War. Takei wanted to play Sulu because he thought the character was a breakthrough role.

Takei had rebounded from his family’s World War II incarceration in America’s concentration camps. The U.S. government had scapegoated 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. In 1981 Takei testified before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to help Japanese Americans win redress.
He said, “… [O]ur history tells us we have a dynamic democracy. And with all of us acting as change agents, I look forward to the time when equality is enjoyed by all Americans.”

In 2005, following Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s opposition to marriage equality, Takei came out of the closet as gay. Speaking out for equal rights, Takei married Brad Altman in 2008. However, the struggle continues. School districts have banned Takei’s books.

Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, pilot
In 1920 Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, recognizing women’s right to vote. One year later, Cheung immigrated to America from China. In 1932 she became the first licensed Asian female pilot. Of 18,800 American pilots, only three percent were women.

A true trailblazer, Cheung said, “I wasn’t interested in being in the kitchen like women were expected to do, I wanted a life filled with adventure.”

In 2000 at the age of 95 years, Cheung was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame.

Midori Goto, violinist
Midori Goto was a child prodigy, playing the violin at age 3. She debuted at Carnegie Hall at 18.

Goto said, “I think of music as something that lives inside all of us. What we have inside of us is not about talent.

It’s what we think. It’s what we feel. It’s what we experience.”

In 1992, Midori created her own nonprofit foundation, Midori and Friends, to provide music programs for New York’s public K-12 schools. “All my programs are based in the idea, this belief that music can bring people together.” Goto went on to become one of five Kennedy Center honorees in 2021.

This book provides readers an opportunity to learn about talented Asians from many backgrounds. I feel sure that you will find someone amazing you like and at least a few people that you knew nothing about. Here are the other “Awesome Asians”:

• Ieoh Ming Pei, architect
• Dr. Isabella Aiona Abbott, ethnobotanist and teacher
• Dr. Amar Bose, inventor and teacher
• Dith Pran, photojournalist
• Helene An, chef
• Mazie Hirono, stateswoman
• Dr. Peter Tsai, Inventor and engineer
• Amy Tan, author
• Mira Nair, filmmaker
• Jensen Huang, CEO and engineer
• Jim Lee, comics artist
• Anika Rahman, human rights lawyer
• Channapha Khamvongsa, humanitarian
• Dr. Farhan Zaidi, baseball executive
• Bruno Mars, singer
• Raymond Martin, wheelchair racer
• Chloe Kim, snowboarder (two-time olympic gold medalist)

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