Queens Library Celebrates Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month!

Posted by: yetheart, May 2, 2016 11:06 am
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Queens Library Celebrates Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month!

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and we're pleased to honor some prominent figures of Asian and Pacific Island descent that have made great contributions and added to the rich cultural tapestry of the United States.

We will feature notable people from a variety of professions and careers, with a special focus on writers. Check this blog post every Monday and Thursday in May for updates!

May 2: Amy Tan

May 5: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

May 9: Ocean Vuong

May 12: Geena Rocero

May 16: Mindy Kaling

May 19: Jeremy Lin

May 23: Viet Thanh Nguyen

May 26: Isabella Abbott

May 31: Minoru Yamasaki



Amy TanAuthor Amy Tan was born 1952 in Oakland, California as a first-generation Chinese American. Her work focuses largely on relationships of Chinese-American families, specifically mothers and daughters.

Her first novel, The Joy Luck Club (1989), became an international hit, and spawned a stage play and Hollywood film. Since then, she has written 13 other books (including two children’s books), and won many awards, including inclusion on the American Library Association's Notable Books list and the New York Times Notable Book list; the Audie Award for Best Abridged Non-Fiction; and the Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature Honorable Mention.

Her novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2001) was adapted into an opera composed by Stewart Wallace in 2008, for which Tan (a trained classical pianist) wrote the libretto. Ms. Tan holds doctoral degrees from both UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley, and is still writing—her most recent work, The Valley of Amazement, was published in 2013. Photo credit: David Sifry via Wikimedia Commons


Dwayne “The Rock” JohnsonDwayne “The Rock” Johnson was born in 1972 in Hayward, California. He is a member of the Anoaʻi family, a line of professional wrestling royalty from Samoa. He is part of the third generation of his family involved in the industry. Before he was The Rock, Johnson spent his athletic career in football and attended the University of Miami on scholarship. He had a brief career on the Miami Hurricanes' national championship team and with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

He made his debut in the WWF (now WWE) in 1996. Promoted as a squeaky-clean good guy, and capitalizing on his bloodline with the name Rocky Maivia (a tribute to his father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather Peter Maivia), the fans initially rejected him, despite his technical skill. It was only when he let his natural charisma shine through that he started to gain attention. He is widely considered one of the biggest wrestling stars of all time. The Rock has held 17 titles in his pro wrestling career, including 10 reigns as World Champion.

He began acting around 2001, first on TV, and then making his Hollywood film debut in The Mummy Returns. Able to play action as well as comedy, his transition from wrestling star to movie star was a natural one. He has since appeared or starred in 30 films, and hosted Saturday Night Live four times. He was named the Top International Movie Star for 2015 by Deadline.com; his films last year had a combined global box office of $1.48 billion. His current film, Central Intelligence, with co-star Kevin Hart, premieres in theaters on June 17. He’s never fully left wrestling and still makes appearances in the WWE, much to the delight of fans.

Johnson has done work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, founded the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation in 2006, and was given the noble title of Seiuli by Malietoa Tanumafili II on behalf of the Samoan people. Photo credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons


Ocean VuongPoet and essayist Ocean Vuong immigrated to the United States from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in 1990. He graduated from Brooklyn College CUNY under the tutelage of Ben Lerner. Though still very early in his career, Vuong has already gained huge attention in the literary world for his poems focused on transformation, desire, and loss.

He has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, an Elizabeth George Foundation fellowship, a Ruth Lilly/Sargent Rosenberg fellowship, the 2015 Narrative Prize, and a 2016 Whiting Award for Poetry.

His poems have been featured in such notable publications as The Nation, TriQuarterly, and Boston Review, and translated into five different languages. His first full-length collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, is currently in its second printing from Copper Canyon Press.

Since he's a resident of Astoria, we’ll be paying special attention to Mr. Vuong’s future works and accomplishments!

You can listen to Vuong read his poem "Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong," courtesy of The New Yorker. Photo credit: Ocean Vuong via Wikipedia


Geena RoceroSupermodel Geena Rocero was born in Manila, Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17. By that time, she had already been competing in beauty pageants for several years. She took off as a professional model when she was discovered in New York City at 21 years old, and signed to a NEXT Model Management contract. She rose in popularity over a 12-year career.

In 2014, her focus shifted. She presented a TED talk that began with these words: “The world makes you something that you’re not, but you know inside what you are.” During that talk, she publicly came out as transgender, a fact that she had not revealed since coming to the United States. She delivered the talk on March 31, 2014—the International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Ms. Rocero co-founded Gender Proud, a nonprofit organization with the goal of uplifting “transgender communities around the globe.” Gender Proud shares positive and inspiring stories about trans individuals, and works to shift public opinion on legislation that restricts the freedoms of trans citizens, including changing documentation to match their identity. She was featured on the cover of C☆NDY magazine for its fifth anniversary, alongside 13 other prominent trans women. She hosts and is executive producer of the Logo web series Beautiful As I Want To Be, in which trans youth are mentored to be the best version of themselves. The series has won a 2016 GLAAD Media Award. Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons


Mindy KalingActress, comedian, and writer Mindy Kaling was born to Tamil and Bengali parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She hit the ground running in her career by joining the comedy troupe The Dog Day Players and the a cappella group The Rockapellas while attending Darmouth College, and also contributing as a writer to the college’s humor magazine. At 19, she started an internship at Late Night with Conan O’Brien while experimenting with stand-up comedy in New York City. She garnered attention and praise during the New York International Fringe Festival for an off-Broadway play she co-wrote and starred in called Matt & Ben, in which she portrayed Ben Affleck.

By age 24, she was the only women on a writing staff of eight for the American adaptation of The Office. She is credited with 25 episodes, making her the most prolific writer on the show. She also portrayed Kelly Kapoor, a beloved but ditzy character that she created as a winking acknowledgement of negative assumptions made of her by more experienced industry professionals. By the end of The Office’s run, she was able to add “director” and “executive producer” to her growing list of TV credits. She also added “show creator” to her resume with the series The Mindy Project. Playing the titular role of Mindy Lahiri (named after author Jhumpa Lahiri), she also writes for and produces the series. It ran on Fox from 2012 to 2015, was picked up by streaming service Hulu in 2015 for a fourth season, and has been renewed for a fifth season. The series is considered groundbreaking for having an Indian-American female lead character.

Kaling has also acted in such films at The 40-Year-Old Virgin and lent her voice to the animated films Despicable Me, Wreck-It Ralph, and Inside Out. She has written two memoirs, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (2011) and Why Not Me? (2015). She has mentioned plans to co-write a third book with her long-time friend and Office co-star B. J. Novak.

Ms. Kaling has won many awards, including two Screen Actors Guild Awards for her work on The Office, a Gracie Award for Outstanding Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy for The Mindy Project, and a Reader's Choice Award for Best Humor Book for Why Not Me?. Photo credit: Dominic D via Wikimedia Commons


Jeremy LinNBA point guard Jeremy Lin was born in Torrance, California. His parents are dual nationals of Taiwan and the United States. Unlike many star athletes, he did not receive a sports scholarship to college, even though he was first-team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year in 2005-2006. He attended Harvard, where he eventually reached the All-Ivy League First Team, averaged 16.4 points in his senior year, and was nominated for the John R. Wooden Award and the Bob Cousy Award.

Surprisingly, Lin was not chosen by any team in the 2010 NBA draft, but was invited to attend the NBA Summer League. There, he made quite an impression, garnering contract offers from several teams and ultimately signing with the Golden State Warriors. He became the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA and made his debut to a standing ovation during the final minutes of the Warriors' Asian Heritage Night.

But his real rise to stardom occurred after he was claimed off of waivers by the New York Knicks during the 2011-2012 season. Due to injuries and "team desperation," he was given increased playing time and responded beyond expectations. On February 13, 2012, Lin was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 2.0 steals in four undefeated starts with the Knicks. He became the first player in NBA history with at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first four starts, and “Linsanity” began to take off around the country.

Lin had surgery to repair a knee injury in April 2012 and missed the rest of the season. He became a restricted free agent, and when the Knicks failed to match a contract offer from the Houston Rockets, Lin signed with that team. He struggled to live up to the promise of his playing days in New York and was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. On March 24, 2015, Lin and his Lakers teammate Jordan Clarkson, who is part Filipino, became the first Asian-American starting backcourt in NBA history. Lin currently plays for the Charlotte Hornets; he helped lead the team to their first victory in a playoff game since 2002, and finished the season as the team’s third-leading scorer in the playoffs. Photo credit: Christian via Wikimedia Commons


Viet Thanh NguyenNovelist Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Buon Me Thuot, Vietnam and came to the United States with his family as refugees in 1975. After moving around to several locations in Pennsylvania, the family eventually settled in San Jose, California. There, they opened the first Vietnamese grocery in the area. Nguyen completed all of his education in California, including graduating from the University of Calfornia, Berkeley with BAs in English and Ethnic Studies, and eventually a Ph.D in English as well. He began teaching at the University of Southern California in 1997 and is currently an associate professor of English as well as American Studies and Ethnicity.

Having written and published notable short stories since 2007 in such publications as TriQuarterly and the Chicago Tribune, he released his debut novel, The Sympathizer, in 2015. It was immediately celebrated by critics and received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The book, which tells the story of a political prisoner‘s flashbacks of the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975, has also won many other awards, including the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association. The Sympathizer appeared on over 30 book-of-the-year lists, including ones from The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, Slate.com, and The Washington Post.

Nguyen has also written many nonfiction works on Asian and Pacific Island culture. His articles have been published in the Japanese Journal of American Studies and The New Centennial Review, among many others. He co-edited Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field with Janet Hoskins in 2014. He is also co-director of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN), which produces arts centered around Vietnamese people living outside of their home country, and edits DVAN’s blog, diaCRITICS.

Mr. Nguyen’s work has been translated into four different languages. His latest book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (April 2016), is the critical companion to The Sympathizer. Photo credit: Fourandsixty via Wikimedia Commons


Isabella AbbottEthnobotanist Isabella Abbott was born Isabella Kauakea Yau Yung Aiona in Hana, Maui in 1919. Her interest in local plant life was inspired by her mother, who was native Hawaiian (her father was of Chinese descent) and taught her about edible Hawaiian seaweeds. She studied at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa before moving on to the University of Michigan for her master’s degree. In 1950, she earned her Ph.D in Botany at the University of California, Berkeley, making her the first native Hawaiian woman to earn such a degree. During her time at Berkeley, she married zoologist Donald Putnam Abbott. He eventually began teaching at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. Dr. Abbott, who was limited in career opportunities at the time (due to her gender), and a new mother, stayed home to raise their daughter Annie. During that time, she perfected her culinary skills, which blended her love of cooking and her knowledge of marine plant life.

It wasn’t until 1960 that she began lecturing at Hopkins. By 1972, after publishing a myriad of academic papers, she was hired as a full biology professor, bypassing the usual positions on the tenure track. She was not only the institute’s first female full professor, but the first person of color to hold the position as well.

Dr. Abbott published many acclaimed works in her career. Her 1976 study, Marine Algae of California, is considered the definitive work on the subject. In 1987, an article in Gourmet magazine detailed her many culinary uses of seaweed—her algae dishes were well-received at many potlucks amongst her peers. She was considered the foremost expert on central Pacific algae, and focused specific attention on limu kala, a strain of seaweed used in many traditional Hawaiian ceremonies. She was dubbed “The First Lady of Limu,” the Hawaiian word for algae. According to the University of Hawaii, over 200 algae owe their discovery and scientific names to Dr. Abbott.

Dr. Abbott won many awards during her long and celebrated career. She was given the 1997 National Academy of Sciences Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal, the highest award in marine botany. She was honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources at the 4th Annual Living Reef Awards in 2008. At her alma mater the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, the Department of Botany even named an undergraduate award after her, to “support and encourage undergraduate research excellence in Hawaiian Botany, terrestrial or marine.” She died in her home state of Hawaii in 2010 at age 91. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, and is being used solely for information & educational purposes.


Minoru YamasakiArchitect Minoru Yamasaki was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of first-generation Japanese immigrants, in 1912. His family was poor and lived in a slum where he was often bullied for his ethnicity. When it came time to pay for college, he worked in Alaska in a salmon canning factory to earn the money. While working in substandard conditions and being mistreated along with his fellow employees, Yamasaki vowed to make a different path in his life. He graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1934. After earning his Master’s degree from New York University, he was hired by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the designers of the Empire State Building. By 1945, he was hired by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls in Detroit, who helped his family avoid internment during World War II. He started his own firm, Minoru Yamasaki & Associates, in 1949.

In 1954, Yamasaki began suffering from stress-related stomach ulcers and traveled to his parent’s homeland of Japan for relaxation, as well as inspiration. Later, back in the states, he garnered attention for his campus building designs for Wayne State University in Detroit, which fused traditional Asian and European design elements. He also designed the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company’s headquarters, Seattle’s Washington Building (now Puget Sound Plaza), the United States Science Pavilion (now Pacific Science Center), the main terminal of the Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, and the IBM building in Seattle.

Of course, Yamasaki is best known for designing the World Trade Center in New York City. (Soon after his selection as designer in 1962, Yamasaki appeared on the cover of Time magazine.) This was no small feat, as the project had an immense initial budget from the Port Authority of New York (around $350 million) and their ambition to make it the tallest building in the world. He turned to engineer and friend Leslie E. Robertson for assistance with the many technical issues surrounding the project. When finished, the World Trade Center towers stood at 1,360 feet, and featured the world’s fastest elevators (1,700 feet-per-minute) as well as a unique SkyLobby system. At the World Trade Center's opening ceremony on April 4, 1973, Yamasaki said that it should “become a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.”

Yamasaki’s later notable projects included Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (1973), the Century Plaza Towers in Los Angeles (1975), and Torre Picasso (1988), which until 2007 was the tallest building in Madrid. During his long career, he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a three-time winner of the American Institute of Architects' First Honor Award. Yamasaki died of stomach cancer in 1986 at age 73. Photo credit: Okinawa Soba via Flickr