A new mural depicting important but unrecognized Asian American leaders is now on display in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Students in the area nominated the heroes depicted, according to Wells Fargo Bank, one of the sponsors of the project.
The bank joined community leaders, students and politicians Wednesday morning for the unveiling.
The 12 depicted are:
Jeanette Lazam: Anti-racism, social justice artist, and housing activist
A key organizer representing the 150 elderly Filipino and Chinese tenants of the International Hotel, a low-income high slated for demolition. All were evicted by police on August 4, 1977, after a decade-long struggle to remain in their home. The I-Hotel remained the last vestige of Manilatown, a vibrant 10-block-long, Filipino neighborhood since the early 1900s. On the night before the eviction, the I-Hotel gained international media attention as more than 3,000 activists locked arms forming a human barricade to save the building. The building was destroyed and eventually rebuilt in 2005 and named International Hotel Senior Residences. Jeanette returned as a tenant again after 44 years on June 3, 2021. Throughout her life, Jeanette has stayed politically active.
Wong Kim Ark: Chinese American who defined who is an American citizen (1873-?)
Born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrants, Kim Ark traveled to China in 1890 and upon his return, the Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law blocking Chinese laborers from entering the country, fueled Chinese racism. Immigration officials forbade him entry to America, claiming he was not a U.S. citizen. He was detained for months on the water, having to move from ship to ship. He took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court and on March 28, 1898, in U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark, court justices voted to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to mean that regardless of race and ethnicity, children born in the U.S. have the birthright of citizenship even if the parents are not American citizens.
Ruth Asawa: Renowned artist and arts education advocate (1926-2013)
Considered one of the most important modern artists of the 20th century, the renowned artist became a passionate arts education champion for everyone, no matter their economic level or ability. The artist, wife, and mother of six, created art out of found materials, constantly drew, and developed her curvaceous looped-wire sculptures that would be displayed in the nation’s most prestigious art institutions. Years after her passing, museums continue to exhibit Asawa’s art and her contoured looped-wire sculptures which are lauded as ethereal, elegant, and voluminous. In 2020, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of ten Ruth Asawa Forever stamps, showcasing seventeen of her hanging sculptures derived from basket-making techniques she learned as a young artist visiting Mexico.
Caroline Cabading: Filipina Culture Bearer
Cabading is Board President and Executive Director of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation. Her initial landmark success was helping to open the International Hotel Manilatown Center, a venue on the first floor of the International Hotel Senior Residences dedicated to honoring the legacy of historic Manilatown and the International Hotel Eviction. Nicknamed the I-Hotel, the iconic SRO served as the epicenter of Manilatown where more than 150 elderly Filipino and Chinese men called home. One of her biggest life achievements has been bringing back three original Filipino residents to the I-Hotel in 2019 nearly 42 years after the SRO eviction.
Cynthia Choi: Human rights organizer, AAPI advocate
Korean American activist and community leader Choi is co-founder of STOP AAPI Hate, a ground-breaking, multi-lingual website that tracks, documents, and responds to incidents of hate, violence, and violations of civil rights and discrimination aimed at Asians. For the first time in history, detailed data would be tracked and collated to prove what was happening to Asian Americans and the data will be used to push for legislation and policies locally, statewide, and nationwide. She is Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and has 30 years of advocacy work in reproductive justice, gender equity, environmental justice, and immigrant rights.
Layton Doung – Chinese Performing Arts Aficionado (1955-2014)
A 4th-generation Chinese American who felt deprived of his heritage as a child; he explored and discovered many facets of Chinese performing arts and culture in the US and in Taiwan. Layton introduced a Yangge dance style, which originated in the Shanxi region of China, to kids at the West Portal Elementary School Chinese Immersion Program (CIP). This complex form of dance includes stilt walking, drumming, ribbon, and fan dancing. Today, thanks to Duong, the Yangge style of dance continues to delight crowds at the annual Chinese New Year Parade.
Reverend Norman Fong: Affordable Housing Crusader
His personal experience of almost becoming homeless impacted his life. Reverend Norman Fong was former Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, which oversees low-income, single renter occupancy (SRO) properties. His advocacy and innovative methods of managing the SROs and keeping them affordable have served as a role model around the country. Now retired from CCDC, his legacy of advocating for the rights of low-income renters and the elderly lives on. The outspoken, upbeat crusader has been arrested several times in his defense of immigrant rights.
Yuri Kochiyama: Black liberation leader, anti-racism activist, Nobel Prize nominee
After seeing governmental abuse firsthand during her family’s incarceration at a Japanese internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas in 1940, she fearlessly championed civil rights for all races whenever and wherever she saw inequity. Kochiyama would become an outspoken ally for the Black community and a Black liberation leader. She also stood up for Latinx and Asians.
Tiffany Long 龍泳聰: Passionate educator heralding inclusiveness
American-born daughter of parents from Hong Kong, elementary educator at the Chinese American International School in San Francisco, Educator Long was active in her school’s Stop AAPI Hate march and was nominated by students for the inspiration and encouragement she offers every day.
Betty Ann Ong: First to alert America of the 9/11 terrorist attacks
On September 11, 2001, when Hijackers commandeered American Airlines Flight 11, veering the plane towards New York’s World Trade Center as it left Boston, American Airlines flight attendant Betty Ann Ong demonstrated heroic efforts by being the first to alert the country of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ong contacted the airline reservation center in Raleigh, North Carolina using the craft’s air phone and systematically described the chaos in the cabin over the next 23 minutes. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown declared September 21, 2001, as Betty Ann Ong Day.
Alok Vaid-Menon: Internationally acclaimed writer, comedian, poet, and public speaker
The child of Malaysian and Indian immigrants, Alok is a transgender and non-binary performer, author, and poet who travels the globe promoting transgender rights and mental health. Alok’s writings explore themes of trauma, belonging, and the human condition. The performer has been named as one of HuffPo’s Culture Shifters and among NBC’s Pride 50.
Judy Yung: Pioneering Asian American scholar and writer (1946-2020)
She dedicated her life to writing accurate and informative books on Chinese American history, and in particular, Chinese women in America. Yung’s many groundbreaking and award-winning history texts chronicle the first Chinese who immigrated to America in the mid-1800s.
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