Anna May Wong will be the first Asian American on US currency


A new U.S. quarter featuring the likeness of Anna May Wong, a pioneering golden age actor considered to be Hollywood’s first Chinese American movie star, will soon go into circulation.

Wong, who launched her career in the silent film era and appeared in more than 60 movies, will be the first Asian American person to be featured on U.S. currency, according to The New York Times.

The coin, which will begin shipping on Oct. 24, features a close-up of Wong’s head resting on her hand. She’s sporting her signature flapper-era bangs, and in a nod to her Hollywood legacy, the coin is framed by dots representing marquee lights.

Front and back view of the coin.Courtesy United States Mint

“Many prominent actors from the 1920s and 1930s saw their name framed by lightbulbs on movie theater marquees, so I thought it made sense to feature Anna May Wong in this way,” Emily Damstra, who designed the coin for the United States Mint, said in a press release.

“Along with the hard work, determination, and skill Anna May Wong brought to the profession of acting, I think it was her face and expressive gestures that really captivated movie audiences, so I included these elements next to her name,” Damstra added.

The Anna May Wong coin also includes the words “quarter dollar” and “E pluribus unum,” the Latin phrase meaning “out of many, one.”

The reverse side of the coin, like other U.S. quarters, shows the face of George Washington in profile. 

Wong was born Wong Liu Tsong in 1905 in Los Angeles. She made her first film appearance as an extra at age 14 in 1919’s “The Red Lantern,” and landed her breakthrough role in the 1922 silent drama “The Toll of the Sea.”

Throughout her career, Wong fought against biased attitudes in Hollywood that limited Asian American actors to stereotypical roles.

She was reportedly frustrated by laws at the time that banned actors of different races from kissing onscreen, according to the Times — which would have prevented her from playing the romantic lead opposite a white star.

Dismayed by the lack of opportunities in Hollywood, Wong left the U.S. in 1928 to seek better roles in Europe, where she enjoyed greater success, according to The Los Angeles Times

Wong was granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. She died of a heart attack in 1961 at the age of 56, according to the National Women’s History Museum.

Wong is one of several women being honored as part of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program. 

Each year from 2022 to 2025, the program will release five new quarters honoring an influential woman from American history.

This year’s honorees also include writer and civil rights advocate Maya Angelou and pioneering astronaut and physicist Sally Ride.

The two other 2022 honorees are Nina Otera-Warren, a leader of New Mexico’s suffrage movement, and Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.


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