Pioneering Actress Anna May Wong Is the First Asian American on U.S. Currency

The reverse side of the Anna May Wong quarter.
The reverse side of the Anna May Wong quarter. / U.S. Mint

The next time you pocket a freshly minted quarter, you might want to give it a look. The likeness of a vital Asian American film star may be staring back at you.

According to The New York Times, early 20th-century film actress Anna May Wong has become the first Asian American to appear on United States currency.

She was born Wong Liu Tsong in 1905, and was the granddaughter of a Chinese immigrant. Growing up in Los Angeles, she found herself at the epicenter of a nascent Hollywood film industry, with productions setting up equipment in her neighborhood. Film roles followed, though opportunities were limited by the ethnic stereotyping common at the time.

“I was so tired of the parts I had to play,” she said in a 1933 interview. “Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain—murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that.”

Anna May Wong is pictured
Anna May Wong. / John Springer Collection/GettyImages

Despite those barriers, Wong had a storied career, becoming the first Asian American actor to get top billing in a Hollywood production (1922’s Toll of the Sea) and even founding her own production company, Anna May Wong Productions. She died in 1961.

The quarter is part of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program, which spotlights influential figures and has previously included poet Maya Angelou and astronaut Sally Ride. George Washington remains on the face of the quarters, while the featured figures appear on the back.

The Mint will begin shipping the quarters on October 24. If you’d prefer not to wait for circulating change, you can order the currency from the U.S. Mint.

[h/t The New York Times]