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Anna May Wong will become the first Asian American featured on U.S. currency


On Monday, a star of the silver screen will be reflected on the shiny surface of American coins.


The actress Anna May Wong is the first Asian American to be depicted on U.S. currency. She goes on the quarter.

LEILANI NISHIME: A lot of us today have kind of forgotten about her, but she was a big deal in her time, and she was one of the few Asian American stars.

INSKEEP: LeiLani Nishime is a professor at the University of Washington.

NISHIME: When she's on the screen, even when she's in a supporting role, it's hard to take your eyes off of her.

FADEL: Wong was born in Los Angeles in 1905. She was a third-generation Chinese American who rose to international fame as a Hollywood star and fashion icon.

INSKEEP: Even though the roles that she was offered were stereotypes - Asian women depicted as dangerous or exotic - she wasn't satisfied and left Hollywood to film movies in Europe and also dabbled in vaudeville, radio and theater.

NISHIME: She was one of the people who had a voice. And she would talk about discrimination in Hollywood, and she would talk about how difficult it was to get a role that didn't just cast her as the evil villain.

FADEL: By the end of her career, she'd starred in over 50 films. In 1960, she became the first Asian American actress to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

INSKEEP: Shirley Lim wrote a biography of Wong.

SHIRLEY LIM: It feels like this is a long time coming. These are stories that, you know, reflect who we are as a nation.

INSKEEP: Anna May Wong's quarter represents change in Hollywood - change you can hold in your hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADRIAN YOUNGE SONG, "ANNA MAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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