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Anna May Wong will become the first Asian American to be on U.S. currency

Anna May Wong, ca. 1935. The U.S. Mint will begin shipping quarters featuring the Asian American film star next week.
General Photographic Agency
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Getty Images
Anna May Wong, ca. 1935. The U.S. Mint will begin shipping quarters featuring the Asian American film star next week.

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.

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.

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

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.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.