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Anna May Wong is now the first Asian American on US currency

by Ezekiel J. Walker
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It has been announced that legendary Hollywood star Anna May Wong will become the first Asian American to appear on US currency.

According to CNN, the design is the fifth to emerge from the American Women Quarters Program, which highlights pioneering women in their respective fields. The other four quarters, all put into production this year, feature poet and activist Maya Angelou; the first American woman in space, Sally Ride; Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller; and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren. The latter two were, along with Wong, selected with input from the public.

According to The Guardian, starting Monday, Wong’s image will be imprinted on quarters across the country. Recognized as Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star, she acted in over 60 films across a decades-long career.

Wong called for greater representation of Asian people in Hollywood and challenged stereotypical depictions at a time when “yellowface” was normalized and the Chinese Exclusion Act was still law.

“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,” Wong stated in a 1933 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “We are not like that.”

In 1960, Wong was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She died the next year. When actor Lucy Liu became the second Asian American woman to earn a Hollywood star, in 2019, she lauded Wong as a “pioneer while enduring racism, marginalization, and exclusion.”

A quarter may be just enough change for a hateful nation

Between March 2020 and March 2022, more than 11,400 hate incidents against Asian Americans have been reported across the United States, according to a report by Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that tracks such incidents and advocates for combatting hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The findings signaled a persistent rise in harassment, verbal abuse and hate speech that have plagued Asian communities since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, the group identified more than 9,000 hate incidents in the pandemic’s first year. A separate study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 339% nationally between 2020 and 2021.

A tireless advocate for her people, the US Mint writes of Wong, “She is remembered as an international film star, fashion icon, television trailblazer, and a champion for greater representation of Asian Americans in film.”

What happened to Harriet Tubman on the twenty?

The family of Tubman had been looking forward to 2020, when Tubman’s likeness was set to adorn the bill — but the Trump administration halted the Obama administration’s efforts to do so. Former President Donald Trump opposed the move, calling it “pure political correctness” during an interview on the campaign trail in April 2016.

Supporters rally with House Democrats to demand that American abolitionist heroine Harriet Tubman’s image be put on the $20 bill outside the U.S. Treasury Department June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

In January 2021, the Biden Administration said it would look into ways to accelerate the effort. “The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Jan. 25, 2021. “It’s important that our money reflect the history and diversity of our country.”

But nearly two years later, it’s unclear where those efforts stand.

According to Insider, redesigning cash is far different than minting coins, and it will most likely be 2030 before a Tubman bill enters circulation.

Why the delay? It turns out, it can take decades for the United States to redesign a single currency note. The $20 bill redesign has been planned since 2013 — years before the Obama administration even selected Tubman to grace the front.

The $10 bill is set to be redesigned in 2026, the $50 in 2028, the $20 in 2030, the $5 in 2032 to 2035, and the $100 in 2034 to 2038.

The founder of Women on 20s, the group responsible for petitioning Tubman on the $20 bill, told Insider she was hopeful the Biden administration could find a way to put the redesigned bills in circulation by the end of 2024.

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