Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Arts and Entertainment

LA's Anna May Wong Will Become The First Asian American To Be On US Currency

Anna May Wong, ca. 1935. The U.S. Mint will begin shipping quarters featuring the Asian American film star next week.
Anna May Wong, ca. 1935. The U.S. Mint will begin shipping quarters featuring the Asian American film star next week.
(General Photographic Agency
/
Getty Images)
Today on Giving Tuesday, we need you.
Dear reader, we're asking you to help us keep local news available for all today on Giving Tuesday. Your financial support keeps our stories free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls AND will be matched dollar-for-dollar! Let your support for reliable local reporting be amplified by this special matching opportunity. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.

The U.S. Mint will begin shipping coins featuring actress Anna May Wong on Monday, the first U.S. currency to feature an Asian American.

About Anna May Wong
  • Anna May Wong, who was born in 1905 in Los Angeles, was a third generation Chinese American. She grew up working at her father’s laundromat in the original Chinatown, and she loved to visit film sets. At just nine years old, Wong chose to become a movie star.

  • LAist first wrote about the decision to put her on the quarter back in January when it was announced. Read more about her life:

Dubbed Hollywood's first Asian American movie star, Wong championed the need for more representation and less stereotypical roles for Asian Americans on screen. Wong, who died in 1961, struggled to land roles in Hollywood in the early 20th century, a time of "yellowface," when white people wore makeup and clothes to take on Asian roles, and anti-miscegenation laws, which criminalized interracial relationships.

The roles she did land were laced with racial stereotypes and she was underpaid, earning $6,000 for her top billed role in Daughter of the Dragon compared to Warner Oland's $12,000, who only appeared in the first 23 minutes of the film. For Shanghai Express, Wong earned $6,000 while Marlene Dietrich made $78,166.

Support for LAist comes from

After experiencing this racist treatment in Hollywood, Wong moved to Europe and starred in English, French and German films. She told the Los Angeles Times in a 1933 interview that she was tired of the roles she had to play in Hollywood.

"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," she told the newspaper. "We are not like that."

Wong's career spanned 60 films — many in the silent era — and she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

The U.S. Mint is expected to produce more than 300 million Wong quarters at facilities in Philadelphia and Denver.
The U.S. Mint is expected to produce more than 300 million Wong quarters at facilities in Philadelphia and Denver.
(Burwell and Burwell Photography
/
United States Mint)

The U.S. Mint's American Women Quarters Program celebrates five female trailblazers in American history each year between 2022 and 2025. Wong is featured on the fifth coin released this year. The U.S. Mint is expected to produce more than 300 million Wong quarters at facilities in Philadelphia and Denver.

Mint Director Ventris Gibson called Wong "a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors."

The tail of the coins will show a close-up of Wong with her head resting on her hand, while the front will feature a portrait of George Washington created by 20th century sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, who became the first woman to design a coin for the U.S. in 1921.

The four other women in the program this year were poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren, and Wilma Mankiller, first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

What questions do you have about Southern California?
  • Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit npr.org.