Chinese American, Event, Performance

Hazel Ying Lee: Fighting for Gender Equality

Hazel Ying Lee

Although she lived during an era when the world told her that as a Chinese American female, the best she might hope for was a job as an elevator operator at a local department store, Hazel Ying Lee (1912–1944) had higher aspirations. Born in Portland, Oregon, she took her first airplane ride at age 20 and resolved to learn to fly. She joined a flying club and took lessons, earning her pilot’s license in 1932–becoming one of the first Chinese American women to enter the profession–in which more than 99% of aviators were male.

After Japan invaded China in 1931, Hazel offered her services to the Chinese government, but the authorities rejected the notion of a female aviator. For a time, she worked for a commercial airline, eventually returning to the U.S., where she set about acquiring war material for China. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a shortage of qualified pilots led to the creation of the Women Airforce Service Pilots or “WASPs,” in 1943. WASPs flew military aircraft from factories to ports of embarkation and military training bases and transported cargo, freeing male pilots for combat. Hazel lost no time in applying, and when she was accepted into the fourth class (43-W-4), she became the first Chinese American woman to fly for the United States military.

Hazel flew the PT-19, BT-13, C-47, and P-63. The work was taxing and often quite dangerous, but she was described as “calm and fearless,” even in the face of several brushes with disaster. During a November 1944 mission to deliver a new P-63 aircraft to Great Falls, Montana, in bad weather, Hazel’s plane collided with another aircraft and crashed on the runway. She survived the accident, but later died of her injuries – the last of 38 WASP heroines to give her life in the service of her country. A pioneer in her field, Hazel Ying Lee proved that neither race nor gender need be a hindrance to realizing one’s dreams.

Click to enlarge

To find out more about Hazel Ying Lee, come to the National Museum of American History on Thursday, June 6 for an original performance by the National Constitution Center about the real–life experiences of a diverse group of seven Americans who bravely fought for equality, freedom, and justice overseas and at home during World War II. Click here to learn more about “Fighting for Democracy: Who is the “We” in “We the People”?”

Chinese American, Intern Update

1882 Project Reception Recap

1882 Project reception recap, September 19, 2012. Photos by Marie Ramos. Click for more images.

By Marie Ramos, Fall 2012 intern

Last July, former Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program intern Sam Gerstle blogged about the passage of House Resolution 683 (H. Res. 683) and Senate Resolution 201 (S. Res. 201), that formally expressed regret for the discriminatory policies of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As one of the new APAP interns, I had the honor of attending the reception to celebrate this momentous occasion, hosted by the 1882 Project at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The 1882 Project is a collaborative effort by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Committee 100, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Council of Chinese Americans, and OCA to educate both lawmakers and the public about the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Laws throughout history.

As an Ethnic Studies major, one of the first things that we covered in school were the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. So this was definitely an exciting event for me. What I enjoyed the most about the reception was listening to the speakers. Representative Mike Honda and Ted Gong (Steering Committee Member of the 1882 Project) stressed the importance of remembering our past. Others noted the progress of both our government and communities by pointing to the success of the 1882 Project—that took two years of planning and pushing—but cautioned that we should not forget the steps that were taken. There are many more issues that need to be addressed, so it is necessary that we continue to be active agents in telling and retelling our stories.

Chinese American, History, This Month in History

Vincent Chin 30 Years Later

Vincent Chin protest

Vincent Chin protest, March 1983.  Photo courtesy Helen Zia

Three decades have passed since the tragic death of Chinese American Vincent Chin.  On June 19, 1982, the night before his wedding, Chin was attacked and fatally beaten by two men as they made disparaging remarks about Asians and Asian Americans.  Chin’s attackers received a lenient sentence for his death – probation and no jail time.  Support for the Chin family spurred a new generation of pan-Asian American activism, arts and scholarship in support of civil rights and justice, and the formation of the American Citizens for Justice advocacy organization.  As a result of this political movement, Chin’s attackers were tried in federal court for violating Chin’s civil rights.  The tragedy of Vincent Chin is part of the history of coalitional politics and movements in the Asian Pacific American community, and joins the many events, both tragic and hopeful, that compose the ongoing journey for civil rights.

Chinese American, History, Intern Update

House Resolution 683

House Resolution 683 press conference, June 18, 2012. From second left: Tom Hayashi (OCA), Michael Lin (Chair of the 1882 Project), Priscilla Ouchida (JACL), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32), Ted Gong (CACA) & Hei-Pei Shue (NCAA). Photo by Noriko Sanefuji

By Sam Gerstle, Summer 2012 Intern

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a press conference held by Representative Judy Chu to celebrate the passage of House Resolution 683 (H. Res. 683), legislation that joined Senate Resolution 201 (S. Res. 201), expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese nationals from entering America. This act isolated the Chinese American community from their friends, relatives, wives, and children.   At the press conference, representatives from various community organizations and leading co-sponsors of Resolution 683 acknowledged the importance of this moment, not only for Chinese Americans, but for all citizens and residents of this country.  The passing of this Resolution led by a Chinese American member of Congress shows how far we, as a country, have come since the 19th century.

For me, the most stirring speech was given by Texas Representative Al Green, who likened the struggle for acceptance by the Chinese American community to struggles by the African American community.  Representative Green recognized the importance of Resolution 683, but also warned that the fight must go on in order for all Americans to feel welcome and equal in this country.

Chinese American

Between Two Worlds: Chinese Americans During the Cold War

Jennifer Fang

Jennifer Fang

On January 3, 2012, Jennifer Fang, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Delaware and Predoctoral Fellow at the National Museum of American History gave a presentation at the NMAH entitled, “Between Two Worlds: Chinese Americans and Suburbanization During the Cold War.” Drawing from Fang’s research at the NMAH Archives Center, the talk examined the relationship between Americans’ shifting perceptions of Chinese people from unwanted and inassimilable foreigners to model minorities, changing immigration laws, and the influx of well-educated, elite Chinese immigrants displaced by the Communist takeover of Mainland China in the decades after World War II.

Fang’s dissertation explores how American-born Chinese and first-generation immigrants settled in the suburbs and constructed hyphenated Chinese and American identities that were shaped by the suburban environment. Using oral history interviews along with traditional archival sources, Fang’s work helps to shift the focus of Chinese American history away from urban Chinatowns while simultaneously arguing that the postwar suburbs were not as culturally or racially homogenous as earlier scholars have portrayed them to be.

Chinese American, History, This Month in History

This Month in History: Fong See & Leticie Pruett

"On Gold Mountain" by Lisa See

"On Gold Mountain" by Lisa See

Fong See & Leticie Pruett:
An Untraditional Love Story

The saga of the See family, as depicted by Lisa See in her book “On Gold Mountain”, would have unfolded in a different way. After establishing his business in Los Angeles, Fong See, along with his wife and five children, went back to China to visit his family in 1919. Upon their return to the United States, they were denied re-entry and an investigation was conducted. Immigrant Investigator, W. G. Becktell, stated that “there appear[ed] to be some conflict of opinion as to whether an American-born white woman married to a domiciled Chinese merchant should be given a Form, or should be handled strictly under the Immigration Law.”1 This indiscretion led to some controversy regarding the sensitive issue of Chinese immigration. Eventually, the debate settled and the necessary forms were filed and approved.

On July 3, 1919, the See family was cleared by immigration officials and was allowed re-entry to the United States.  Because of this, the See family did not have to return to China and Leticie, an American, was able to return to her homeland with her American-born children and naturalized husband. This scenario, although under unique circumstances, mirrors the discrimination against Chinese and even Chinese Americans who were already allowed into the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act prevented many from immigrating to the US and for many years, there is a discrepancy to the number of male immigrants to female immigrants that made it hard for these men to start a family.

Fong See came to the United States in 1871 as a fourteen-year old searching for his father, a doctor who had been employed by the railroad industry to administer to Chinese workers who were suspicious of Western doctors and their medical practices. Upon his father’s return to China, Fong See and his two brothers took over his apothecary business. It was at his father’s shop when one fateful day, Leticie Pruett, an eighteen-year old runaway from Oregon, came asking for a job.  While working at the shop, Fong and Leticie developed a relationship and in 1897, they were contractually married through a lawyer since interracial marriages were against the law at that time.2

You can read more about Fong See and Leticie’s story in the book “On Gold Mountain”, by the See’s great-granddaughter, Lisa See. An exhibition with the same title, was shown at the Smithsonian in 2001 that featured Lisa See as one of the speakers.

1 “Immigration Memorandum re Mrs. Fong See,” The Columbia Documentary History of the Asian American Experience.

2 “From China to Chinatown: Fong See’s American Dream,”

Chinese American, Exhibitions, HomeSpun, Staff Update

NewsChannel 8 Interview

NewsChannel 8 Interview

NewsChannel 8 Interview with Noriko Sanefuji and Sameen Piracha

Click here to watch the interview, it begins 29 minutes into the video.

APA Program staff members Noriko Sanefuji and Sameen Piracha appeared on NewsChannel 8 to discuss the Sweet & Sour display at the National Museum of American History and to raise awareness for the HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project.

Noriko Sanefuji is the APA Program Curatorial Assistant, National Museum of American History.
Sameen Piracha is the APA Program Development Specialist.