Five historical markers commemorating AAPI history will be added to the thousands of markers lining Virginia’s roads.
Each year, during the month of May, Americans across the nation celebrate AAPI heritage. This year, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam took celebrating AAPIs to a more permanent level.
In May 2021, Northam announced the inaugural AAPI Heritage Month Marker Contest as part of a show of solidarity with AAPI Virginians against anti-Asian hate. The AAPI Heritage Month Marker Contest, had students grades K-12 submit descriptions of AAPI people, groups, events, or places they believed deserved a historical marker.
The AAPI contest followed the footsteps of the Black History Month Historical Marker Contest which launched a year before. Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 and is the oldest in the nation. Over 2,600 historical markers line Virginia’s roadways.
The contest not only helped identify possible marker candidates — it also gave students an exciting AAPI history lesson and the opportunity to make tangible change in the community. At the celebration webinar, several winning students shared what they learned and received praise from the Secretary of Education, Governor, and First Lady, as well as other government officials who made the program possible.
Virginia Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni spoke on his excitement, saying, “I’m just so pleased, celebrating this specific event today because we’re recognizing the contributions of so many Asian American and Pacific Islander Virginians that have just gone over looked for far too long.”
The Governor explained how “Virginia has about 2500 historical markers across the state, but not enough are dedicated to sharing AAPI history, this is a problem because AAPI history is Virginia history. As proud Virginians we must celebrate and commemorate the ways that Asian American and Pacific Islander Virginians have advanced the stem disciplines, deepen faith communities, improve education and champion justice.”
The five winning submissions include:
- Filipinos in the U.S. Navy (Virginia Beach) – nominated by students from Cherry Run Elementary School in Burke, Virginia and by the adult English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
Filipino members of the U.S. Navy have served in Hampton Roads since at least the Civil War. A full Filipino-American community began emerging after the Philippines achieved independence in 1946 and the Navy began recruiting Filipinos for all positions. Today, spurred by the Navy and a large nursing community, Hampton Roads is the second-largest Filipino community on the East Coast.
- Kim Kyusik (Salem) – nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.
In 1903, Kyusik graduated from Roanoke College, which today funds a fellowship in his memory. He held several roles in the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea including foreign minister and vice president, and was a representative at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. He was kidnapped by North Korean factions after World War II and died in captivity.
- Arthur Azo Matsu (Williamsburg) – nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.
Matsu graduated from William & Mary in 1927, where he was the first Asian American student. The son of a Scottish mother and a Japanese father, he became a leader on campus even as Virginia introduced a series of laws in the 1920s to prevent “race mixing.” He became the first Japanese American football player in the National Football League as a quarterback, after guiding William & Mary’s high-octane offense from 1923–1926 and leading the program to its first postseason win.
- W. W. Yen also known as Yan Huiqing (Charlottesville) – nominated by students from Hunters Woods Elementary in Reston, Virginia.
Yen graduated from the University of Virginia in 1900, where he was the first international student to earn a bachelor’s degree and the first Chinese student to earn a degree. One of China’s key early 20th century leaders, he served as premier five times and held a series of important cabinet and diplomatic posts.The University of Virginia now has a dorm and scholarship fund named after him.
- Vietnamese Immigrants in Northern Virginia (Falls Church) – nominated by students at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia.
The Vietnamese community began solidifying in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood during the 1970s, becoming known as Little Saigon by the end of the decade. The fall of the South Vietnamese government spurred a surge in immigration, with the D.C. area becoming the third-largest Vietnamese community in the country. Climbing rents pushed much of the Vietnamese commerce west to the Eden Center in the 1980s, which over the ensuing years has expanded and became at one point the largest Vietnamese shopping district in the country.
The five markers are slated to receive approval in the coming months, WSLS News reports.
In addition to creating the AAPI Historical Marker contest, Governor Northam has worked to increase outreach with AAPI communities, his website says. He proclaimed May to be AAPI Virginian Heritage Month, released a video message and statement against hate and violence towards Asian Americans. In addition, the administration hosted roundtable discussions with AAPI community leaders, students, and frontline workers to learn from lived experiences.
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