5 People to Celebrate for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad completed in Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a rich heritage thousands of years old and have both shaped the history of the United States. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we highlight 5 people who made a difference in politics, business, sports, and more.

Wat Misaka
In 1947, Misaka, a Japanese American, was drafted by the New York Knickerbockers, making him the first non-white and of Asian descent professional basketball player. The 5’7” point guard led the University of Utah to the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT championships. Misaka also took a two-year hiatus between titles to serve in the United States Army during the American occupation of Japan.

Patsy Mink
Mink, a third-generation Japanese American, was born and raised in Hawaii. She became the first Asian American woman and first woman of color elected to Congress in 1965. She was a principal authority of the Title IX Amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1972, which helped bring women into the world of sports.

Norm Mineta
Mineta was the first Asian American mayor of a major city (San Jose, California) and the first Asian American in a presidential cabinet as secretary of commerce under Bill Clinton and secretary of transportation under George W. Bush. The Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose was named after him in November 2001.

Indra Nooyi
Nooyi was born in India in 1955 and joined PepsiCo in 1994. She was named CEO in 2006, becoming the fifth CEO in PepsiCo’s history. Forbes named her as the #3 most powerful woman in 2008 and Fortune ranked her #1 in the list of Most Powerful Women in business in 2009 and 2010. In August, Nooyi stepped down as CEO and continued to serve as the chairman of the company until early 2019.

Susan Ahn Cuddy
Cuddy was born in Los Angeles to the first Korean married couple to immigrate to the United States in 1902. During World War II, Cuddy became the first female gunnery officer in the U.S. Navy. She later worked for The Office of Naval Intelligence and the National Security Agency. The Asian American Justice Center gave her its American Courage Award in 2006.

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