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.

Chinese American, Collection

Collections: Cecilia Chiang and The Mandarin Restaurant

Cecilia Chiang

Cecilia Chiang. Photo by Noriko Sanefuji.

APA Collections Update from Noriko Sanefuji and Tim Yu:

I continue with my search for objects for the National Museum of American History’s on-going initiative on Chinese foodways in America.  During my recent trip to San Francisco, I had an opportunity to meet with Cecilia Sun Yun Chiang who was influential in transforming Chinese foodways in the United States. Forced to flee from her home following the Chinese communist takeover, Chiang first arrived in the United States in 1960 to aid her recently widowed sister in San Francisco.  After coming across two Chinese women she had previously met in Tokyo on the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, Chiang agreed to help them negotiate a $10,000 lease with a local landlord due to her greater proficiency in English, only to find that her new business partners would soon desert her.  Reluctant to give up on her new commercial investment, Chiang opened the now-legendary The Mandarin restaurant on Polk Street before subsequently relocating to the prestigious Ghirardelli Square in June 1968.

Several years later, she opened her Beverly Hills restaurant.  Although her initial business ventures did not yield immediate success, her voracious determination to unveil a unique, yet eloquent style of Northern Chinese dining proved to be pivotal in significantly altering American attitude towards authentic Chinese cuisine.

Artifacts from The Mandarin Restaurant

Artifacts from The Mandarin Restaurant. Collection includes porcelain tea cup, ashtray, match book with the Mandarin restaurant’s logo and a tiki cup, chopsticks with logo and various menus.

Prior to Chiang’s arrival in the United States during the early 1960’s, American people were predominantly exposed to “Americanized” Cantonese-based dishes—a stark contrast to the diverse, spicy meals offered in the Chinese provinces of Szechuan and Hunan.  Credited for elevating the standard of upscale Chinese dining in America, Chiang sought to create a restaurant that not only matched her personal ambitions as an Asian American businesswoman, but also demonstrated “the elegance, the beauty of Chinese culture” to a Western audience.   Chiang has also been acclaimed by Alice Waters, a leading American restaurateur, as China’s Julia Child, and for her role in challenging existing depictions of Chinese American cuisine amidst the Cold War. Over her forty-year reign at The Mandarin, Chiang went on to serve famous celebrities, including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Henry Kissinger.

[1] Allan Carr and Cecilia Chiang. The Mandarin Way. San Francisco: Little, Brown and Company (1974), 7.

[2] Lisa Weiss and Cecilia Chiang. The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco. San Francisco: Ten Speed Press, October 2007, 11.

[3] Bauer, Michael. “At the Mandarin, Cecilia Chang changed Chinese food.” (accessed May 26, 2011).

[4] Harlib, Leslie. “Ceclia Chiang – China’s Julia Child.”

Chinese American, Collection, History

Collections: Chinese Cooking Tools

APA Collections Update from Noriko Sanefuji:


Chinese Wok

What essential cooking utensil comes to mind when you think of Chinese cooking?  Probably, the wok.  The basic design of the wok has not changed in centuries.  The wok’s rounded form is optimal for cooking with a small amount of fuel, higher heat at the base, and varied temperatures along the curve.  It is a necessity in regions where fuel is scarce and food must be cooked quickly.  For faster cooking and heat distribution, ingredients in the wok are usually chopped into small, thin slices. The wok is also the ultimate tool of kitchen convenience, as it can be used to boil, sautee, stir-fry, deep-fry and steam. It remains the main cooking appliance in Chinese restaurants today, and can also be found in many American homes.

Miners sharing a meal cooked in the wok

San Francisco miners sharing a meal cooked in the wok, lithograph 1850-69.

This wok dates back to the 1880’s and was used by Chinese immigrants in California.  These immigrants who came to work in the gold mines and railroads, brought this type of wok to America and continued to cook Chinese food in their new land.



Chinese immigrants brought not only the wok but also cooking utensils such as spatula and ladles, which are commonly used with a wok.  The long handles safeguard the cook from the high heat.  A skimmer removes surface items from the wok, the ladle adds or removes ingredients, while the spatula is an all-purpose tool.

These objects are currently on display in the Sweet & Sour showcase in the National Museum of American History on the first floor.

Sweet & Sour Showcase

Sweet & Sour Showcase at the National Museum of American History (first floor). Photo by Harold Dorwin.

Young, Grace. The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore. Simon & Schuster. 2004

Chinese American, Crafts, Event, Family, Film, General APA

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – Family Day Celebration

Saturday, May 7, 2011
11 a.m. — 4 p.m.
First Floor
National Museum of American History
14th Street and Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20004

The Killing of a Chinese Cookie
Film screening begins at 1 p.m.

Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian
This event is free and open to the public.

Bring the whole family to the Smithsonian’s kickoff celebration for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! This day of activities centers on Sweet & Sour, a display that traces the evolution of Chinese food in the United States and the long history of Chinese immigration. Visitors can watch the film, The Killing of a Chinese Cookie, join a discussion with director Derek Shimoda, and participate in many hands-on activities. Children and their families can work with artist Sushmita Mazumdar to create a storybook illustrating a personal story from their own kitchen. Teens from the Hirshhorn’s ARTLAB+ video production program will then interview the children and record their stories, producing videos for the families and for posting on the site  There will also be curator talks with Cedric Yeh, Deputy Chair and Associate Curator in the Division of Armed Forces History at NMAH. He is also the Co-Chair for the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Committee.

APA Heritage  Month


11:00 a.m. Curator Talk with Cedric Yeh
Sweet & Sour exhibition case, East Special Artifact Wall
12:00 p.m. Curator Talk with Cedric Yeh
Sweet & Sour exhibition case, East Special Artifact Wall
1:00 p.m. Screening of The Killing of a Chinese Cookie
Followed by Q&A with film director Derek Shimoda
Carmichael Auditorium
3:00 p.m. DVD and book signing with Derek Shimoda and Sushmita Mazumdar
LeFrak Lobby, by entrance to Carmichael Auditorium
3:30 p.m. Curator Talk with Cedric Yeh
Sweet & Sour exhibition case, East Special Artifact Wall

Ongoing Activities

Handmade Storybooks with Sushmita Mazumdar
LeFrak Lobby, by entrance to Carmichael Auditorium
Starts on the hour and half hour

Make Clay Fortune Cookies
Activity area at Sweet & Sour exhibition case, East Special Artifact Wall
Special thanks to Meiwah Restaurant for their support of this activity.

Record Your Family Story on Camera
Presidential Suite, 12-2 p.m. and 2:30-4 p.m.
Special thanks to the Pearson Foundation for their support of this activity.

APA bookshelf at the American History Museum bookstore

APA bookshelf at the American History Museum bookstore

Chopsticks and Spices Carts
First Floor

Cookbook Sales
LeFrak Lobby, by entrance to Carmichael Auditorium

Special Asian Café Menu
Stars and Stripes Café, First Floor

Related Links:

Smithsonian Participants:

Southwest Airlines

Air travel for participants is provided by Southwest Airlines.