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Heroism and Activism, Shirley L. Ng Discusses her Fight to Bring the First Ever APAHM Celebration to her Community

by Shirley L. Ng

“Did you know that 288 Chinese Americans from New Jersey served in WWII?” That was the first line of my email to the Deputy Mayor of Manalapan, NJ, Jack McNaboe, in early March.

As an active Chinese American and resident of my town for many years, I felt it was time for my community to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). With my network of influential speakers and a friend’s documentary that took over 20 years to produce, I was armed and ready to organize an event.

Fang Wong speaks about being the first Asian American National Commander.

I originally presented this idea to my town library, but they could not commit financially. Luckily, I already had plan B in place, and that was to propose my idea to the Manalapan Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee (MVAAC),

I emailed the Deputy Mayor, who also happens to chair MVAAC. That email to the Deputy Mayor led my town to celebrate APAHM for the first time last Thursday, May 30. 

A few days after my email, Deputy Mayor McNaboe invited me to speak at the next MVAAC meeting about my APAHM event and to request their financial support for the licensing fee to show “Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese,” a documentary by Samantha Cheng. It talks about the history of the Chinese in the deep south and the 182 men from that small community who served in WWII. I pointed out to MVAAC that the documentary shows contributions of Chinese Americans in the military, which is perfect for APAHM and would tie in nicely with the observance of Memorial Day in the same month.

Corky Lee talked about “paper sons.”

As I spoke to them on the history of APAHM, I also used data from the 2010 Census that showed Asians are the second largest race in my town. So why not celebrate APAHM?

I also provided the committee with a list of guest speakers who had committed to the event since January: Fang Wong, the first Asian American National Commander of the American Legion (2011-2012); Kenny Wong, Past Immediate Commander; and Corky Lee, Commander of the Sons of American Legion, photojournalist, and advocate. They are all members of American Legion Lt. B.R. Kimlau Post 1291 located in Manhattan, Chinatown.

With the 75th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad built by over 20,000 Chinese laborers, 2019 is a significant year to celebrate my Chinese heritage. And, not to mention, the passage of the Congressional Gold Medal Act for Chinese American WWII Veterans last December, which was signed into law by President Trump just before the federal shutdown.

MVAAC acted quickly. The next day they moved to support the event.

Kenny Wong talks about his great grand father, a Chinese laborer during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.

After almost three months of correspondence and planning, the event attracted approximately 60 people at the Monmouth County Library, which included Manalapan Mayor, Susan Cohen and MVAAC committee members. Astonishingly, a Chinese gentleman from the local NJ area stood up during the Q&A session. He said he was from the Mississippi Delta and had come to see the documentary when he heard about it.

During the Q&A session, the guest speakers provided more information about the contribution of Asian Americans. Fang spoke about Asian Americans in the military and his experience as the first Asian American National Commander. Kenny spoke about his great grandfather, a Chinese railroad worker that worked on the Transcontinental Railroad. Corky explained the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 led to the creation of “paper sons”, which Corky father was.

Deputy Mayor McNaboe texted me the next day after and told me our town will have a proclamation in May 2020 for APAHM. Now that my friends, is very rewarding. 

Thank you to the Township of Manalapan and MVAAC in recognizing the value of this event to our community and the contributions of Asian Americans in the US.

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