For the first time in history, an Asian-American person will be featured on U.S. currency.
On Oct. 24, the U.S. Mint will begin shipping out coins featuring Anna May Wong, who is widely credited as the first Chinese-American movie star. The Hollywood icon appeared in dozens of films from 1920-1960, including 1932’s “Shangai Express,” which saw her sharing the screen with Marlene Dietrich. Despite Wong’s obvious talent and prolific career, she was outrageously underpaid when compared to her white co-stars and her roles were often laced with racist stereotypes.
“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,” Wong told The Los Angeles Times in 1933. “How should we be, with a civilization that’s so many times older than that of the West. We have our own virtues. We have our rigid code of behavior, of honor. Why do they never show these on the screen? Why should we always scheme, rob, kill?”
Wong’s groundbreaking legacy on screen is being celebrated on quarters that feature a striking portrait of her etched into the coin.
Wong, who was born in L.A. in 1905, continued acting for decades despite the unfair treatment she dealt with in Hollywood. She eventually decided to leave her native country and move to Europe in search of more film opportunities that were less constricting. Shortly before her death in 1961, Wong was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the decades that have followed, she’s been heralded as a trailblazer for Asian-American actors and for diversity in film. It’s this legacy that inspired the Mint to put her on the new coins, which still feature President George Washington on the reverse.
“The fifth coin in our American Women Quarters Program honors Anna May Wong, a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors,” said U.S. Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson in a press release. “This quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments by Anna May Wong, who overcame challenges and obstacles she faced during her lifetime.”
Wong’s memory has also been honored in her hometown, where a statue of her stands among the Four Ladies of Hollywood gazebo, alongside Dorothy Dandridge, Dolores Del Rio and Mae West. The sculpture was dedicated in 1994.
The American Women Quarters series, which features Wong’s coin, was created with the intention of honoring the accomplishments of American women throughout history. From 2022 to 2025, the U.S. Mint plans to release five new quarters each year to honor various trailblazers. So far, likenesses of writer Maya Angelou, activist Wilma Mankiller, politician Nina Otero-Warren and scientist Dr. Sally Ride have been featured.
The next coins coming in 2023 will feature Bessie Coleman, Edith KanakaÊ»ole, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jovita Idar, and Maria Tallchief. Be sure to keep a look out for the new Wong quarter next time you get some change!
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