The United States Mint will celebrate Anna May Wong, star of films like “Shanghai Express,” by making her the first Asian American to appear on U.S. money. Production will begin on Oct. 18 and the quarters will include her picture.
The printed quarter has a picture of Wong resting on a woman’s hand as an homage to the person whom many people believe to be the first Chinese American cinema star. She was born in Chinatown, Los Angeles, in 1905, and passed away at her Santa Monica home from a heart attack in 1961.
At the age of 14, Wong began her career in the entertainment industry by negotiating her way into her first film part. She featured in more than 50 movies during the ensuing years and became one of the first Asian American stars in Hollywood. The quarter honors her success in movies, but it also recognizes the challenges she had as an Asian American actress striving to get important parts at a period when racial prejudice and the practice of using white actors in “yellowface” to play Asian characters were frequent. Additionally, Wong frequently played characters that were killed off in the movies she appeared in; as a result, she jokingly quipped that she had “died a thousand deaths.”
In addition to Wilma Mankiller and Nina Otero-Warren, who were shown on quarter currency earlier in the year, the United States Mint’s “American Women” project also includes celebrated author Maya Angelou and astronaut Sally Ride. While Ride was honored for becoming the first American woman to travel into space, Angelou was the first Black woman to appear on American money. Five new quarters showcasing significant women who may have gone unnoticed in American history will be made every year through 2025.
Through its “American Women” program, the U.S. Mint plans to manufacture more than 300 million quarters bearing Wong’s image.