Better World

A new (historic) role model? Anna May Wong to be first Asian American on U.S. currency

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This month, the U.S. Mint began producing more than 300 million coins featuring the image of iconic actress Anna May Wong. The coins are part of the American Women Quarters Program which plans to debut five new coins each year through 2025. 

Anna May Wong, who lived from 1905 until 1961, was the first Asian American film star in Hollywood. On her path to stardom, Wong faced steep obstacles during a time when anti-miscegenation laws and “yellowface” (white actors portraying Asian characters, often using offensive stereotypes) were commonplace. Because of laws prohibiting actors of different races being physically affectionate on screen, Wong was often overlooked for leading roles despite being considered one of the most beautiful and talented actresses in Hollywood. 

Wong had her first starring role at age 17, and even directed and produced her own movie, My China Film, in 1936. She eventually moved to Europe where the entertainment industry was vastly more accessible to actors of color at the time — and there she starred in A Circle of Chalk opposite renowned actor Laurence Olivier, among other starring roles. The year before her death, Anna May Wong became the first Asian actress to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

Want more ways to discuss Asian American history with kids? You can use our script to talk about the diversity within the AAPI community, and even introduce them to the ways that AAPI history impacts their own daily lives!

The American Women Quarters Program has also released coins featuring the images of the writer Maya Angelou and astronaut Sally Ride. Future designs include pilot Bessie Coleman and former First Lady and activist Eleanor Roosevelt.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.