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AAPI Community and Individual Success

Date: May 13, 2022

As we recognize and celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight some historical accomplishment by a few patriotic, heroic and pioneering individuals.

Hong Yen Chang is reported to be the first Chinese immigrant to earn a license to practice law in the United States.  Chang attended Columbia Law School in 1886, however the New York State Bar at the time required applicants be U.S. citizens, and although he was naturalized as a citizen, was still rejected. In response to this injustice, the New York State Legislature issued the “An Act for the relief of Hong Yen Chang,” allowing him to gain admission. On May 17, 1888, he was admitted to the New York State Bar

Ellison Onizuka was both the first Japanese and first Asian American to go to space. Prior to his service with NASA, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a test pilot and flight test engineer.

He served as mission specialist in 1985 onboard Discovery’s STS-51C mission. Ellison also had the unfortunate distinction to also tragically die on the Challenger disaster in 1986. Honoring his service, he was promoted from lieutenant colonel to the rank of colonel, posthumously.

Naomi Eumura was a famous and heroic Japanese explorer. He was the first man to climb Mount McKinley solo in 1970, the first Japanese man to climb Mount Everest, and in one of his most famous expeditions, he was the first person to achieve a solo trek to the North Pole. On his voyage he gathered evidence about weather and air pollution by gathering snow and ice samples for the Smithsonian Institution and other research institutes in Japan.

Margaret Chung graduated from the University of Southern California Medical School in 1916 and was the only woman in her class. She dressed in masculine clothing, was known by the nickname “Mike,” and as you imagined, faced many challenges as a result of being the only women.  She faced internship and residency denials, but finally became an emergency surgeon in Los Angeles, becoming the first American born Chinese woman doctor. In her position, she helped establish the first western hospital in Chinatown, San Francisco.

During World War II, she volunteered as a front-line surgeon, and was able to network with high-ranking officers and government officials and led to the establishment of the Woman Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, a naval branch, which helped lead the way for women to be integrated into the U.S. military.

Change and breaking ground on new ways of thinking always requires courage, innovation and challenging societal norms. The invaluable contributions by our AAPI community have not only been a foundation, but also a formidable force in the continual evolution of diversity and equity.

As a reminder, a special commemorative pin for AFA Members to wear throughout the month of May can be obtained from your AFA Local Council office.   For more information about the pin, please contact your AFA Local Council office.

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