Anna May Wong Is The First Asian American Woman On US Currency

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The American Women Quarters Program honors influential American women (Credit: US Mint)

Earlier this year, the United States Mint began producing a series of quarters showcasing some of the most influential American women. The fifth coin in the "American Women Quarters Program" was released on October 24, 2022. It features famous Hollywood actress Anna May Wong. She is the first Asian American to appear on the country's currency.

Anna May Wong was born in 1905 in Los Angeles, California. Surrounded by the fast-growing film industry, she discovered her love for movies at a young age. Wong often skipped school and used her lunch money to watch movies. By the age of nine, Wong knew she wanted to be an actress. She starred in her first movie at the age of 14 and got her big break at 17 when she landed a leading role in The Toll of the Sea.

Anna May Wong is the first Asian American woman to be featured on US currency (Credit: US Mint)

Despite being a good actress, Wong faced a lot of discrimination and struggled to get the roles she deserved. The parts she did get portrayed preconceived ideas about Asian women. She was also paid far less than her White counterparts in the movie. In 1924, Wong decided to take charge of her own destiny. She set up a movie production company to make films about Asian culture. Unfortunately, the company shut down before the first movie went into production.

Frustrated by the system, Wong decided to move to Europe. She starred in several English, German and French films and also appeared in theater productions in London. The talented actress returned to the US in the 1930s after Paramount Studios promised her leading roles in their upcoming movies. In 1932, Wong appeared in Shanghai Express, one of her most famous films.

The obverse side of the Anna May Wong coin (Credit: US Mint)

But Wong soon realized that nothing had changed. She still faced the same discrimination, and her roles were no better. "I was so tired of the parts I had to play," Wong told a magazine interviewer in 1933. "Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain—murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that."

The disillusioned actress retired from the movie industry in 1942 at the age of 37. She spent a few years touring China, before returning to the US. In 1951, Wong became the first Asian American lead on a US television show. In 1960, the pioneering artist made history again as the first Asian American woman to receive a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Wong died of a heart attack a year later, at the age of 56.

Resources: Smithsonianmag.com, History.com, USmint.gov.

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