By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
In a turbulent year of ups and downs — mostly downs — there were still a few bright spots within the Asian and Asian American community that stood out. Here are our top 10 Asian and Asian American achievements of 2020.
1. Kamala Harris and many firsts
Kamala Harris became the first Black and Indian American woman to become the vice president-elect with the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. She made history again when she and President-Elect Joseph Biden were named Time’s Person of the Year. Harris is the first vice president to be featured on the cover and be named Time’s Person of the Year.
2. Asian Americans made history again this election
Democrat Adrian Tam becomes the only openly gay Asian American in Hawaii’s House of Representatives. Tam beat Nicholas Ochs, a leader of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, with 63%t of the vote.
Democrat Nikil Saval becomes the first South Asian American elected to Pennsylvania’s state senate.
Democrats Jenifer Rajkumar and Zohran Mamdani made history when they became the first South Asians voted into the lower house of the New York state legislature.
Democrat restaurateur and activist Francesca Hong won the 76th Assembly District — becoming the first Asian American to serve in the Wisconsin state Legislature.
Democrat Marilyn Strickland, a former mayor of Tacoma, will be the first Black person to represent the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Idaho, and Oregon) in Congress and will be the first Korean American woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Democrat Mai Vang became the first Asian woman to be elected to the Sacramento City Council.
Democrat Alex Lee won California’s 25th Assembly District race. At 25, he’ll become California’s youngest Asian American state legislator ever, the first openly bisexual state legislator, and the first Gen Z assembly member.
Democrat Jocelyn Yow became the youngest woman of color to be sworn in as the mayor of Eastvale in Riverside County in California.
Republican Michelle Steel flipped California’s 48th District, which encompasses most of the Orange County coast. She will be one of the first Korean American women to serve in U.S. Congress.
Republican Young Kim won a congressional seat in Orange County’s 39th Congressional District.
3. Asia’s impressive COVID-19 response
Asian countries and city-states like Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore have generated global praise and envy from other countries for their impressive responses to the global pandemic. Having learned from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003, these governments were better prepared for COVID-19.
For instance, in Taiwan, government officials rapidly produced and implemented a task list, and ramped up mask production early on. Experts say that closing Taiwan’s borders early and tightly regulating travel have made a tremendous impact fighting the virus.
Here in the United States, Asians, especially Asian immigrants, were among the first to adopt judicious COVID response strategies such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing, showing that there is always much to be learned from the Asian community, at home and abroad.
4. Panda gives birth
A little black and white miracle was born in August at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC. Zookeepers were surprised to find out that giant panda Mei Xiang had tissue consistent with fetal development during her ultrasound a week before she gave birth to Xiao Qi Ji (“little miracle” in Chinese). Cheers to some paw-sitive and cute news for 2020.
5. Dave Chang wins $1 million
Famed chef David Chang became the first celebrity to win $1 million on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire for Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit that provides crisis relief organization for people in the food and beverage industry. With the help of his friend and ESPN journalist Mina Kimes (a fellow Korean American), they answered the million dollar question correctly.
Chang was asked to name the first U.S. president to have electricity in the White House.
6. Fifteen-year-old Gintanjali Rao was named Time’s “Kid of the Year”
Gintanjali Rao was named Time magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year. She uses technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying.
She is on a mission to create a global community of young innovators to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Rao was chosen from more than 5,000 nominees.
7. Asians who are out of this world
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi successfully completed NASA’s first commercial crew program flight, as part of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience.
Jonny Kim will be the first Korean American to join a NASA mission in space. The 36-year-old, who was once a Navy Seal and a doctor, will also be part of NASA’s 2024 missions to walk on the moon.
Aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman announced that they would name their new spacecraft after the late Kalpana Chawla (S.S. Kalpana Chawla), who was the first Indian-born woman to fly into space.
8. Asians making statements in the literary scene
Taiwanese American Charles Yu won this year’s National Book Award for Fiction for “Interior Chinatown.” The novel tackles on-screen Asian representation and stereotypes. The book has also been longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction and was also a finalist or shortlisted for the Prix Médicis étranger award. This is Yu’s fourth book.
In addition, the Whiting Foundation has awarded Ling Ma as one of 10 emerging writers and also with $50,000, for “Severance,” her fictional debut novel about a zombie pandemic.
On the nonfiction side, the Whiting Foundation awarded Jia Tolentino with the honors.
9. Overdue recognition for Chinese American veterans
An estimated 20,000 Chinese Americans who fought under the American flag during World War II have been given official recognition by the U.S. Congress for their patriotism and service. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest honor that Congress can award.
10. Carvey Ehren Maigue wins sustainability award
Carvey Ehren Maigue, a 27-year-old engineering student from Mapua University in the Philippines, became the first-ever winner of James Dyson Award’s Sustainability Award. He invented a technology, AuREUS, or Aurora Renewable Energy and UV Sequestration, that turns spoiled, damaged crops into solar panels. He beat out 1,700 other entries from 27 countries and won the £30,000 (USD $39,931) cash prize.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.