Oct 18, 2022 - Economy & Business

Anna May Wong becomes first Asian American featured on U.S. currency

Portrait of Anna May Wong in a dress with her arms crossed next to a design of the Anna May Wong quarter

Anna May Wong circa 1930 (left) and the new quarter featuring Wong. Photos: Silver Screen Collection via Getty Images and the U.S. Mint

The pioneering actress Anna May Wong will become the first Asian American featured on U.S. currency as part of a program honoring distinguished women and their contributions.

Driving the news: The quarter featuring Wong, who is known as the first Chinese American Hollywood star and appeared in over 60 movies throughout her career, will go into circulation starting Monday, according to the U.S. Mint.

What they're saying: Wong was "a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors," Mint director Ventris C. Gibson said in a statement.

  • "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."

Her life story: Wong was born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles Chinatown in 1905, 23 years after the U.S. enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act during an era of intense vilification targeting Chinese people.

  • After getting a taste of Hollywood as an extra in her first movie, she dropped out of high school to pursue acting full-time.
  • Though she was able to overcome barriers to play leading roles in several productions, she was largely limited to typecast roles based on racist stereotypes and tropes — like the "Lotus Blossom."

"When I die, my epitaph should be: I died a thousand deaths," she famously said. "They didn’t know what to do with me at the end, so they killed me off."

  • She was also shut out of playing lead roles in romance films due to anti-miscegenation laws at the time that barred interracial marriages in the U.S. as well as any kind of onscreen kissing depicting interracial relationships.
  • After a few years, Wong left Hollywood due to the constant discrimination and yellowface and moved to Europe where she starred in several plays and films.

She did return to the U.S. for a few productions later in the 20th century, including "Shanghai Express" and "The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong," which made her the first Asian American to lead a TV show in the U.S.

  • Wong died in 1961 of a heart attack at 56 years old. She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame one year before her death and is widely acknowledged as the visionary who opened doors for Asian actors today.

The big picture: Wong's quarter is the fifth released this year under the American Women Quarters Program, which will feature coins designed to recognize trailblazing women from 2022 through 2025, with five quarters issued per year.

Go deeper