AAPI Heritage Month: Notable People (Public Figures)

Updated: May 5

Pittsford Central PTSA Celebrates

Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May Is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) peoples’ contributions have had substantial and important impact in the United States. Pittsford Central PTSA celebrates our Asian and Pacific Islander parent community with representation all month long.


OUR PROGRAM - Celebrating AAPI Heritage

Here you will find interviews, historical profiles, and resources providing snapshots of the culture and the legacy of the Asian Diaspora and life in America.

Please return to this site over the upcoming weeks to find out more and share in this important topic.


PTSA DEI invites parents, educators, and students to attend our upcoming PTSA DEI Event on East Asian American Diversity.

Join in a panel discussion of East Asian culture, presented and hosted by three professors across disciplines who know the respective language, culture, and both formal and informal institutions of three countries in East Asia.


Week 2 : Notable People (Public Figures)

While there are numerous notable people that could be added to these lists, here are a number examples of individuals that have made noteworthy contributes through the ages:

Spotlight on Science and Technology


Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, Chinese American Nuclear Physicist

Known as the “Chinese Marie Curie” and the “Queen of Nuclear Research,” Dr. Wu was born in Jiangsu Province, China, in 1912, and moved to the U.S. in 1939 to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.

As an experimental physicist, Dr. Wu made significant contributions to the study of nuclear physics, and as a member of the research staff at Columbia University, she played a critical role in the Manhattan Project, the research and development consortium led by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom that created the first nuclear weapons. Dr. Wu was the recipient of the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics and was the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society.

Chinese immigrants Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang received the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical work demonstrating that the conservation of parity did not always hold and later became American citizens.

Samuel Chao Chung Ting received the 1976 Nobel Prize in physics for discovery of the subatomic particle J/ψ.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar shared the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics and had the Chandra X-ray Observatory named after him.

Steven Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for his research in cooling and trapping atoms using laser light.

Daniel Tsui shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics in 1998 for helping discover the fractional Quantum Hall effect.

Yoichiro Nambu received the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the consequences of spontaneously broken symmetries in field theories.

Charles K. Kao was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009 "for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication."

Shuji Nakamura won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes.


Charles J. Pedersen shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his methods of synthesizing crown ethers. Born on October 3, 1904 in Busan, Korea.

Pedersen attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in order to obtain a master's degree in organic chemistry. He is one of the few people to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences without having a PhD.

In 2008, biochemist Roger Tsien won the Nobel in Chemistry for his work on engineering and improving the green fluorescent protein (GFP) that has become a standard tool of modern molecular biology and biochemistry.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the prize in Chemistry "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome".

Ching W. Tang was the inventor of the Organic light-emitting diode and Organic solar cell and was awarded the 2011 Wolf Prize in Chemistry for this achievement.



Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first Indian American woman to go to space. Chawla was the first woman to study aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College. She then earned a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and a doctorate in aeronautical engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1988.

Dr. Chawala was one of the seven astronauts that lost their lives in the Dr. Space Shuttle Columbia incident in February 1, 2003. She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004 and several streets, universities and institutions have been named in her honor. She is regarded as a national hero in India, where she was born in East Punjab, in 1962.

LTC Ellison Onizuka became the first Asian American (and third person of East Asian descent) when he made his first space flight aboard STS-51-C in 1985. Onizuka later died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.

Taylor Gun-Jin Wang became the first person of Chinese ethnicity and first Chinese American, in space in 1985; he has since been followed by Leroy Chiao in 1994, and Ed Lu in 1997. In 1986, Franklin Chang-Diaz became the first Asian Latin American in space. Eugene H. Trinh became the first Vietnamese American in space in 1992. In 2001, Mark L. Polansky, a Jewish Korean American, made his first of three flights into space.

In 2003, Kalpana Chawla became the first Indian American in space, but died aboard the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia. She has since been followed by CDR Sunita Williams in 2006. See also: List of Asian American astronauts

The Asian American 'Martians' Behind NASA's Perseverance Rover The successful landing of the NASA Perseverance rover on Mars after its 293 million-mile journey from Earth was made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines, including several Asian Americans.

Swati Mohan is an Indian American aerospace engineer and Guidance and Controls Operations Lead responsible for Perseverance. Also working at JPL alongside Mohan is Chinese American systems engineer Allen Chen, who is currently the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) Lead for the Mars 2020 project. Pauline Hwang, who has worked for JPL for over 15 years, is the Strategic Mission Manager for Mars 2020 Surface Operations.


Dr. David Ho, Taiwanese American Research Physician and Virologist Born in Taichung, Taiwan, in 1952, Dr. David Ho moved to Los Angeles at age 12 with his mother and younger brother to reunite with his father, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1957. After earning his bachelor of science in biology from California Institute of Technology and his medical degree from Harvard University-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Dr. Ho performed his clinical training in internal medicine and infectious diseases. When he was a resident at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, he came into contact with some of the first reported cases of what was later identified as AIDS. In 1984, Dr. David D. Ho first reported the "healthy carrier state" of HIV infection, which identified HIV-positive individuals who showed no physical signs of AIDS. Since then, Dr. Ho has been on the frontlines of AIDS research, and more recently, coronavirus research.

Har Gobind Khorana shared the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in genetics and protein synthesis.

Andrew Yao was awarded the Turing Award in 2000.

Spotlight History Makers, Political Leaders, & Activists

Dalip Singh Saund, Indian American Congressman

Born in Punjab, India, in 1899, Saund emigrated to the U.S. via Ellis Island in his early 20s to further his education. He subsequently earned both master and doctoral degrees in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.

After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1949, Saund ran for and won various positions in local government in Stockton, California. In 1955, he announced his campaign to run for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, a seat he would go on to win twice, which made him the first Sikh American, the first Asian American, and the first Indian American to be elected to the U.S. Congress.

Yuji Ichioka, Japanese American Historian and Civil Rights Activist

As a child, Yuji Ichioka and his family were relocated from their home in San Francisco to the Topaz internment camp in Millard County, Utah, for three years during World War II. This experience proved to be seminal for Ichioka, who is largely credited with coining the term “Asian American.”

By helping to unify different Asian ethnic groups (e.g., Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, etc.) under a single, self-defining term, Ichioka paved the way for greater prominence and understanding of people of Asian descent in the U.S.

Born in San Francisco in 1936, Ichioka served three years in the military, then earned degrees from University of California campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley. He founded the Asian American Political Alliance in 1968 and helped to establish the Asian American studies program at UCLA. With his wife, Emma Gee, Ichioka established the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment for Social Justice and Immigration Studies at UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center.

Philip Vera Cruz, Filipino American Labor Leader and Civil Rights Activist an influential labor organizer, farmworker and leader in the Asian American movement. As a co-founder of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which later merged with the National Farm Workers Association to become the United Farm Workers, Vera Cruz led the charge to improve the terrible working conditions for migrant workers, especially Filipino and Mexican farmworkers.

Born in Saoang, Ilocos Sur, Philippines, in 1904, Vera Cruz moved to the United States at age 22. Working a variety of menial labor and farm jobs, Vera Cruz witnessed firsthand the deplorable treatment that farmworkers experienced. Vera Cruz partnered with Mexican labor organizer Cesar Chavez to demand better treatment, and together with the United Farm Workers union, these labor leaders were finally able to impact change in working conditions for thousands of workers.

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1896-1966) strongly advocated for women’s suffrage and equal rights. Over 100 years ago this week a 16-year-old suffragist named Mabel Ping-Hua Lee made history when she lead one of the major women’s suffrage marches in New York City.

Lee was born near Hong Kong in 1896 and moved to the United States in 1905 to join her father, who was serving as a missionary. Lee was granted a visa as part of an academic scholarship and attended the Erasmus Hall Academy in New York City, one of the oldest schools in the nation.

When the 19th Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote in 1920, it did not include women of color. She only received the right to vote when the Chinese Exclusion Act  was repealed in 1943. Lee attended Barnard College and was the first Chinese woman to receive a PhD in economics from Columbia University in 1921.

Larry Itliong (1913-1977) was a Filipino American labor organizer and co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Ask members of the Filipino American National Historical Society and they will say the Delano Grape strike of 1965 — the grape boycott that neatly tied together civil rights and labor rights in America—should be known as the revolution of Larry Itliong.

He played a pivotal role in the Asian American Movement in the late 1960s-1970s.

Yuri Kochiyama, an American citizen of Japanese descent. She was a schoolteacher until 1942, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which basically imprisoned American citizens because of their ethnicity. In 2005, Kochiyama was one of 1,000 women collectively nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the "1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005" project.

On June 6, 2014, the White House honored Kochiyama on its website for dedicating "her life to the pursuit of social justice, not only for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, but all communities of color."

Gary Faye Locke is an American politician and diplomat. He was the 21st governor of Washington (1997–2005) and served as the United States Secretary of Commerce (2009–11).

Locke is the first governor in the continental United States of East Asian descent and the only Chinese American ever to have served as a governor of any state. He was also the first Chinese American to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China.

Gordon Hirabayashi, (平林潔, Hirabayashi Kiyoshi, April 23, 1918 – January 2, 2012) was an American sociologist, best known for his principled resistance to the Japanese American internment during World War II, and the court case which bears his name, Hirabayashi v. United States.

Although he at first considered accepting internment, he ultimately became one of three to openly defy it. He joined the Quaker-run American Friends Service Committee. In 1942 he turned himself in to the FBI, and after being convicted for curfew violation was sentenced to 90 days in prison. He invited prosecution in part to appeal the verdict all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with the backing of the ACLU.

Spotlight on Authors

Spotlight on Music, Arts, Film, and Architecture

Wang Leehoma graduate of Pittsford Sutherland High School, is an American singer-songwriter, actor, producer, and film director. Since his 1995 debut, Wang has released 25 albums that have sold over 60 million copies. He is a four-time winner and 19-time nominee of the Golden Melody Awards, the "Grammys" of Chinese music.

With over 72 million followers on social media, Wang is one of the most followed celebrities in China. In 2018, CNN dubbed him "King of Chinese Pop" and the LA Times called him "the biggest American star America has never heard of." Wang was listed as one of Goldsea's "The 100 Most Inspiring Asian Americans of All Time".

Where Are Our Asian-American Singers?

Chloé Zhao, First Woman Of Color To Win Oscar For Best Director

Chloe Zhao was awarded Best Director for Nomadland at the 93rd Academy Awards, becoming the first woman of color in history to win in the category and only the second woman director overall. In her speech, she spoke of the importance of holding onto the goodness in ourselves, each other, and the world, despite the difficulties we may encounter. NomadLand also won best picture, and best actress for Frances McDormand’s role as Fern.

Anna May Wong, Taishanese American Actress

Widely regarded as the first Chinese American actress of Taishanese descent to achieve superstardom in Hollywood, Wong was born in Los Angeles in 1905 and started acting at an early age. Her varied career spanned silent films, the first color films, television and radio.

Although many of her early roles played into ethnic stereotypes, Wong was a vocal advocate for greater representation of Asian Americans in film and television, and she gained both critical and popular acclaim for her international acting roles. Wong famously lost the leading role of the Chinese character O-Lan in the film adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth to German actress Luise Rainer, who played the role in yellowface and went on to win the Academy Award for her portrayal.

Yo-Yo Ma, Chinese American Classical Musician and Performer. Born in Paris, France, in 1955, to classically trained musicians of Chinese descent, Yo-Yo Ma was raised and educated in New York City, where he was a musical prodigy who began performing at the age of four.

A graduate of The Juilliard School and Harvard University, Ma has performed as a soloist with orchestras around the world, recorded more than 90 albums, and received 18 Grammy Awards.

Ma has achieved both critical and commercial success, and has been honored with numerous recognitions, including the Glenn Gould Prize, National Medal of Arts, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Polar Music Prize, and was once named “Sexiest Classical Musician” by People magazine.

  • Art by Asian Americans

  • Kabuki: Inside the Japanese artform with its biggest star, Ebizo

  • Academy Award winners and nominees of Asian descent

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, an Oscar-nominated documentary film directed by Steve James, tells the incredible saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York. Accused of mortgage fraud by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Abacus becomes the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The indictment and subsequent trial forces the Sung family to defend themselves – and their bank’s legacy in the Chinatown community – over the course of a five-year legal battle.


November 13, 1982: The Vietnam War Memorial is dedicated in Washington, D.C. Designed by Maya Lin, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, the simple, black-granite wall is inscribed with 57,939 names of Americans killed in the conflict.

Lin, as an architecture student at Yale, bested more than 1,400 entries in a national competition to design the memorial in a unanimous decision by the jurors. At first considered controversial, it quickly becomes a powerful symbol of honor and sacrifice.

I.M. Pei, Chinese American Architect. Born in Guangzhou, China, in 1917, Ieoh Ming Pei moved to the U.S. in 1935 to enroll in the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture school, but he quickly transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Pei would go on to design some of the nation’s most iconic buildings, including the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, among many others.

Pei’s design of the glass and steel pyramid at the Musée du Louvre in Paris firmly established his reputation as a global visionary. Pei is among a select few architects whose work has defined city skylines around the world. In 1983, Pei won the Pritzker Prize, which is sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture.

Spotlight on Inventors and Entrepreneurs

  • An Wang (1920-1990), Chinese-born American inventor, engineer, and business executive who made important inventions relating to computer memories and to electronic calculators. He was the founder and longtime executive officer of Wang Laboratories Incorporated, a leading American manufacturer of computers and word processing systems. On January 30, 1997, the Eastman Kodak Company bought the Wang Software business unit for $260 million in cash.

  • Jerry Yang, Taiwanese American Co-Founder of Yahoo! and Tech Investor, In 1994, Jerry Yang and his classmate David Filo dropped out of the doctoral program at Stanford University to create an internet directory originally named “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” which was later renamed Yahoo! As the creator of one of the first internet portals, Yang played a critical role in defining the role of technology in our lives.

  • Steve Chen, Co-founder and former CTO of YouTube, YouTube, created by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim became the tenth most popular website just a year after its launch. Steve Chen is the recipient of the Order of Lincoln – the highest honor of the state of Illinois.

  • Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google A soft-spoken and modest Sundar Pichai has mapped his way from a project manager to the CEO of this tech giant in just ten years. Since his appointment in 2015, Alphabet’s revenue rose by as much as 81%!

  • Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, Prior to becoming the first non-American CEO of Microsoft, Nadella held leadership roles in both enterprise and consumer businesses across the company. He also serves as a board member for the Starbucks.

  • Indra Nooyi, Former CEO of PepsiCo. and currently serving in the board of directors of Amazon Indra Nooyi is consistently ranked among the world’s 100 most influential women. She was 14th on Forbes’ list of most powerful women in 2014 and 2nd in Fortune’s list of most powerful women in 2015.







The Pittsford Central PTSA DEI Committee seeks to celebrate ALL residents and truly value diversity and inclusion. We emphasize that our differences truly make us better. We know that it is essential to create welcoming schools and classrooms where differences in language, culture, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, unique abilities, etc., are viewed as assets rather than deficits. An awareness and acceptance of these differences are foundational to the success of all students.

As a small group of volunteers, we acknowledge we may be incomplete in our coverage of this topic. For that reason - we welcome you to contact us with suggestions and additions regarding any of this material, you may reach the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee via our feedback form. We can add more to our posts throughout the month and plan to build on this material in future years.


Pittsford Central PTSA, NYSPTA and National PTA Resources

Pittsford Central School District and Monroe County Resources


Indigenous Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge the Seneca people as the traditional custodians of the land that we are on and for their enduring presence. We would also like to pay respects to Elders past and present of the Hodinöhsö:ni' Confederacy, and we extend that respect to any other indigenous people who are present with us today. We make this acknowledgment as a first step in fulfilling our responsibility to critically look at colonial histories and their present-day implications as we pay respect to the keepers of the land, and the land itself. We are aware that acknowledgment is not reparation, and land acknowledgment without active steps towards education, support of the Seneca Nation, and sincere efforts to undo colonial legacies means very little.