By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
2018 was another big year for Asian Americans and Asians. There were a lot of significant election firsts, awards handed out, and notable achievements across the entertainment, political, scientific, education, and philanthropic sectors.
- Firsts for politicians of Asian descent
Despite political tensions with the Trump administration, it was still a relatively successful year for several Asian American politicians. There were several historic wins in the country this past November election.
Taiwan-born John Liu and Indian American Kevin Thomas, both Democrats, became the first Asian Americans elected to New York’s state senate.
Chinese American William Tong became the first Asian American to win a statewide office in Connecticut with his election as Attorney General.
Andy Kim (D) became New Jersey’s first Asian American congressman, after he defeated two-term incumbent Tom MacArthur in the 3rd congressional district.
Vietnamese American and local hero Joe Nguyen (D) became Washington’s first Vietnamese American legislator and the district’s first person of color to hold that position.
Tina Maharath (D) is the first Lao American state senator in the United States in her home state of Ohio. Her victory also marks Ohio’s first Asian American state senator and first Asian American woman in the general assembly.
Susheela Jayapal became the first South Asian to be elected as a member of the Board of Commissioners of Multnomah County in Oregon on May 15.
She is the older sister of U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Seattle), who was the first ever Indian American woman elected to the House of Representatives.
Cyndi Nguyen, who moved to the United States from Vietnam when she was 5, was sworn in as the first Vietnamese member of the New Orleans City Council on May 7.
2. Immunologists win Nobel Prize for Medicine
Japan’s Tasuku Honjo is one half of the Nobel Prize winning duo who discovered how to harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer. They won the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their groundbreaking achievement. Honjo and U.S.’s James Allison shared the $9 million prize. Their work has already changed patient outcomes and their recognition marks the first time the development of a cancer therapy has been awarded with a Nobel Prize.
3. CNN recognizes philanthropists of Asian descent
Peruvian Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong, of Asian descent, was named the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year for his work providing free housing, meals, and support to sick children and their families while they undergo treatment. He received $100,000 to grow his nonprofit called Inspira, which has helped more than 800 families since it started in 2008.
Recognized as CNN’s Young Wonders, two sisters from Bali, Indonesia, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, started campaigning to ban plastic bags locally and to reduce the impact of plastic waste globally. Their environmental efforts began when they were just 10 and 12 years old, respectively.
Indonesia is the second largest plastic polluter in the world after China. The sisters founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a nonprofit focused on reducing the usage of plastic bags in Bali.
Another CNN Young Wonder of 2018, Naperville teen Sonika Menon, was recognized for her charitable work running her nonprofit, The Birthday Giving Program. The organization helps to distribute birthday goodies to disadvantaged kids in suburbs around Chicago.
4. Harvard University student becomes first DACA recipient to win Rhodes Scholarship
South Korean-born Harvard University senior Jin Kyu Park became the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) recipient to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship. This was Park’s second time applying because DACA recipients were ineligible for the award at the time of his first application. Park will continue his studies at the University of Oxford in the U.K. in 2019.
5. Erin Entrada Kelly wins top U.S. children’s literature prize
Earlier in 2018, Filipino American author Erin Entrada Kelly won the Newbery Medal for her 2017 children’s novel “Hello, Universe.” Her novel, ideal for young adults and younger readers, features a Filipino American character and Filipino themes.
6. Tammy Duckworth gives birth while serving in U.S. Senate
It’s a girl! Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (D) became the first woman and first sitting senator to give birth while serving in the U.S. Senate.
7. The first Vietnamese American U.S. Army General takes command of the U.S. Army in Japan
Maj. Gen Viet Xuan Luong became the U.S. military’s first Vietnamese American general to assume command of U.S. Army Japan. Luong is responsible for 2,500 soldiers, civilians, and family members throughout 16 installations in mainland Japan and Okinawa. In 2014, Luong became the first Vietnamese American general in the United States. He was the son of a Republic of Vietnam Marine Division major, who evacuated from Saigon with his parents and seven siblings before the city fell to North Vietnamese forces.
8. Asians make statement in Hollywood award circuit
Darren Criss made history at the 70th Emmy Awards, winning Best Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his portrayal of Andrew Cunanan in FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Criss is the first Asian American actor to win in this category, only the second actor of Asian descent to win in any acting category, and the first Filipino American actor to win an Emmy.
Sandra Oh is the first actress of Asian descent to be Emmy-nominated for lead actress in a drama. In addition, Oh will become the first Asian American to co-host the Golden Globes when it airs on Jan. 6, 2019. She was also nominated for best performance by an actress in a TV drama for her role on Killing Eve.
Constance Wu of Crazy Rich Asians’ success also made history with her Golden Globes nomination for best actress in a motion picture, musical or comedy. It’s the first time in more than 50 years since an Asian woman has been nominated for the award.
9. Karthik Nemmani wins Scripps National Spelling Bee
Hailing from McKinney, Texas, Karthik Nemmani became the 14th consecutive Indian American champion. Nineteen of the past 23 winners are of Indian heritage. He won the competition by spelling “koinonia,” which means Christian fellowship or communion.
10. Awkwafina hosts SNL
Rapper and actress Nora Lum, more commonly known as Awkwafina, hosted Saturday Night Live’s Oct. 6 episode. The last time an Asian American woman hosted SNL was Lucy Liu, who appeared on the Dec. 16, 2000 episode.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.