In 1978, President Carter established the first week of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. In 1992, Congress expanded and renamed the concept, creating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Here are some notable and ingenious members of the AAPI community who improved and revolutionized life in the U.S. (and the modern world) with their remarkable inventions.
The California-born scientist received a doctorate in immunology and macro-biology and then began her life’s work at UC San Francisco. In 1991, Tsukamoto headed a research team that isolated the stem cell. A tremendous medical breakthrough, which Tsukamoto co-patented, stem cells are the building blocks of human tissue and unlocked the possibilities of transplantations and curing a multitude of diseases by giving the body the healthy materials it needs.
In 1994, Yang, a Taiwanese American doctoral student, dropped out of Stanford and with colleague David Filo, created a portal or entry point for the very early internet. Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web, later renamed Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle, or Yahoo!, for short, was up and running by 1995. An easy-to-use interface demystified computing for millions of new internet users at the dawn of the information age, Yahoo! was one of the first search engines, online news sites, and commercial email providers.
Even though he only made six films before his untimely death at age 33 in 1973, Bruce Lee became a legend of martial arts and action cinema for influential work like Fists of Fury and Game of Death. Before he became a matinee idol, the Hong Kong-American Lee created a brand-new form of martial arts in 1965 called Jeet Kune Do. It combined elements of kung fu, boxing, and other combat sports along with some personal touches. With very few alterations, Lee’s Jeet Kune Do evolved into mixed martial arts, the fast, punishing fight sport immensely popular today thanks to organizations like UFC.
What we think of as “Chinese food” in the United States today is an Americanized version of the cuisine of northern China. Joyce Chen helped popularize it. After the communist takeover of China in 1949, Chen and her family left Shanghai and settled in Massachusetts. By 1973, she’d established a chain of Joyce Chen Restaurant outlets in the northeast. Chen also helped bring Chinese-inspired cooking to the home kitchen. Unable to use her wok on flat American cooktops (they’re recessed in China), Chen devised and in 1971 patented a flat-bottom wok, also called a stir fry pan and first sold as the Peking Wok.
Learn more about fascinating historical figures, heralded and not heralded enough, in Portable Press’s Show Me History! series.