Nikki Haley (1972 – )

116th Governor of South Carolina (R), 2011 – 2017

Nikki Haley has served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations from January 2017 to December 2018 when she resigned. During her first few months as UN ambassador, Haley dealt with threats from North Korea, Russia, and Iran. She is the first Indian-American to have served in a presidential cabinet.

Haley was also Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017. At the time she was sworn in, Haley was the youngest governor in the country. She is South Carolina’s first female and Indian American governor.

In 2016, Haley was selected by the Republican Party to deliver the GOP response following President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Sources:

“Nikki Haley | Biography & Facts,” in Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nikki-Haley.Nikki Haley, “Nikki Haley,” Biography, December 11, 2017, https://www.biography.com/political-figure/nikki-haley.

Elaine Chao (1953 – )

Secretary of Transportation (R), 2017-2021

Elaine Chao has served as Secretary of Transportation in Donald Trump’s cabinet and Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush (2001 – 2009). Following the 2021 Storming of the U.S. Capitol, Chao resigned from her position as Secretary of Transportation.

Previously served as Deputy Maritime Administrator, Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, Director of the Peace Corps, Chief Executive Officer of United Way of America, and Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Chao is the first Asian American woman and first Taiwanese American to be appointed to a President’s cabinet.

Sources:

“Elaine L. Chao,” The White House, n.d., https://www.whitehouse.gov/people/elaine-chao/.

“Secretary Elaine Chao | US Department of Transportation,” http://www.transportation.gov, n.d., https://www.transportation.gov/meet-secretary/secretary-elaine-chao.

“Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Resigns, Citing Violence At Capitol,” NPR.org, accessed January 10, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/congress-electoral-college-tally-live-updates/2021/01/07/954495552/transportation-secretary-elaine-chao-to-resign-citing-violence-at-capitol.

Gary Locke (1950 – )

U.S. Ambassador to China, 2011 – 2014, U.S Governor of Washington, 1997 – 2005

Gary Locke served as United States ambassador to China (2011 – 2014) and is the 21st governor of Washington (1997 – 2005). In the Obama administration, Locke served as the Secretary of Commerce (2009 – 2011).

Locke is the first governor of East Asian descent in the continental United States. He is also the only Chinese American to have ever served as governor of any state and first Chinese American to serve as U.S. ambassador to China. As governor, Locke strengthened economic ties between Washington State and China more than doubling Washington’s exports to China to over $5 billion a year.

Locke was the first Chinese American Secretary of Commerce and one of three Asian Americans in Obama’s cabinet, the other two being Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

Sources:

“About Governor Gary Locke,” http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov, accessed January 10, 2021, https://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/governorlocke/bios/bio.htm.“Gary Locke,” The Institute of Politics at Harvard University, accessed January 10, 2021, https://iop.harvard.edu/fellows/gary-locke.

George Ariyoshi (1926 – )

3rd Governor of Hawaii (D), 1974 – 1986

George Ariyoshi is the 3rd Governor of Hawaii having served from 1974 to 1986. He is the first elected non-white governor of Hawaii and also the first Asian American governor of any state. 

Ariyoshi is Hawaii’s longest-serving governor. He has won 25 electoral campaigns and has never lost.

As governor of Hawaii, Ariyoshi “adopted responsible fiscal strategies, maintained progressive trade relations and steady tourism growth, optimized the development of ocean resources, and strengthened Hawaii’s presence in the Pacific”.

Sources:

Asian Governor, “George R. Ariyoshi An Oral History of the First,” 2016, https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/46011/Ariyoshi_combine_pc_final_revised.pdf.

“George Ariyoshi,” Blue Planet Foundation, December 14, 2016, https://blueplanetfoundation.org/board/george-ariyoshi/.

“George Ariyoshi,” Honolulu Magazine, December 19, 2019, https://www.honolulumagazine.com/nisei-veterans-share-stories-of-life-after-wwii-george-ariyoshi/.

Josefina Guerrero (1917 – 1996)

Photo source:
https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/philippines-spy-joey-guerrero 

As the Battle of Manila raged, young Josefina Guerrero walked through gunfire to bandage wounds and close the eyes of the dead. Her valor earned her the Medal of Freedom, but the thing that made her an effective spy was a disease that was destroying her.

– Synopsis on The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero of World War II

U.S. World War II Spy, 1942-1943

During World War II and Japan’s Occupation of the Philippines, Josefina Guerrero joined the guerilla movement and became a spy. She started off as a courier, delivering news of the war to the Filipino people. When American troops arrived in the Philippines, her responsibilities grew to map out Japanese fortifications and defenses. 

After World War II, Guerrero was exiled to leprosarium but tried to help clean and take care of the patients as much as she could despite being ill herself. She sent a letter describing the terrible conditions of the camp to a friend which eventually circulated to the media and caught the attention of the government, spurring them to improve the camps. 

In 1948, Guerrero moved to Carville, Louisiana to receive treatment for her disease (which would take 9 long years), while also advocating against destigmatizing and dehumanizing people afflicted with Hansen’s disease. The same year, Guerrero received the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm.

Sources:

“From Outcast to Spy to Outcast: The War Hero with Hansen’s Disease,” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, accessed January 10, 2021, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/philippines-spy-joey-guerrero.

Jhemmylrut Teng, “When Leprosy Made Her the Most Reliable Spy of World War II,” Medium, November 9, 2020, https://medium.com/history-of-yesterday/when-leprosy-made-her-the-most-reliable-spy-of-world-war-ii-4b3043b95199.

Eric Shinseki (1942 – )

Photo source:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eric_Shinseki_official_Veterans_Affairs_portrait.jpg 

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

– General Eric Shinseki

U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs, 2009 – 2014

Eric Shinseki served as the United States Secretary of Veteran Affairs from 2009 to 2014 and was the 34th Chief of Staff of the Army from 1999 to 2003. He is the first Asian American Secretary of Veteran Affairs and the first Asian American four-star general.

Shinseki is a veteran of two tours of combat in the Vietnam War and was awarded three Bronze Star Medals for valor and two Purple Hearts. He has also been awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, and Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Clusters), among other awards.

Shinseki was born in Lihue, Kaua’i to Japanese parents from Hiroshima and born within a year of the Pearl Harbor Attack. He graduated from the United States Military Academy (BS) and Duke University (MA) and went on to serve 38 years in the military.

Sources:

“General Eric K. Shinseki – The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army,” n.d., https://armyhistory.org/general-eric-k-shinseki/.

“Eric K. Shinseki | United States General,” Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eric-K-Shinseki.“Eric Shinseki,” Ballotpedia, accessed January 11, 2021, https://ballotpedia.org/Eric_Shinseki.

José B. Nísperos (1887 – 1922)

Private, Philippine Scouts, U.S. Army, 1907-1912

José B. Nísperos was a private in the US Army’s 34th Company of the Philippine Scouts, a military organization formed by the U.S. government during the Philippine-American War. 

Nísperos is the first Asian American and Filipino to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

After suffering many wounds during the war, Nísperos was discharged for disability in June 1912.

“Having been badly wounded (his left arm was broken and lacerated and he had received several spear wounds in the body so that he could not stand), Private Nisperos continued to fire his rifle with one hand until the enemy was repulsed, thereby aiding materially in preventing the annihilation of his party and the mutilation of their bodies.”

– Citation to Nísperos’s Medal of Honor Award

Sources:

“Jose B. Nisperos | Action Against Outlaws, Philippines 1911 | U.S. Army | Medal of Honor Recipient,” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, accessed January 11, 2021, https://www.cmohs.org/recipients/jose-b-nisperos.“The Philippine Scouts – The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army,” accessed January 11, 2021, https://armyhistory.org/the-philippine-scouts/.

Young-Oak Kim (1919 – 2005)

Colonel U.S. Army, 1941 – 1946 & 1950 – 1972

Young-Oak Kim was a Korean American United States Army Officer during WWII and the Korean War, civic leader, and humanitarian. During WWII, Kim served in the US 100the Infantry Battalion which was later reformed into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He and private first class, Irving Akahoshi executed one of the key raids during the Italian campaign, delivering German soldiers for interrogation who would give intelligence vital to the war.

In the Korean War, while in the 31st Infantry, Kim played a significant role in stopping Chinese troops and pushing them back to the 38th parallel. He later became Commander of the 1st battalion; the first minority officer in U.S. history to gain this leadership position.

Kim served 30 years in the military, becoming the most decorated Asian American in the U.S Military by the time he retired from the rank of colonel. For his service, Kim was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross, and Legion of Honor.

Sources:

“Kim (Young Oak) Biography Papers,” oac.cdlib.org, accessed January 11, 2021, https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8668kmk/.“Young Oak Kim,” http://www.100thbattalion.org, accessed January 11, 2021, https://www.100thbattalion.org/history/veterans/officers/young-oak-kim/.

Hazel Ying Lee (1912 – 1944)

Photo source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/obituaries/hazel-ying-lee-and-maggie-gee-overlooked.html

“I held a moment in my hand, brilliant as a star, fragile as a flower, a tiny sliver of one hour. I dripped it carelessly, Ah! I didn’t know, I held opportunity.”

– Hazel Ying Lee

Pilot, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), 1943-1944

Hazel Ying Lee is the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military and one of two Chinese Americans in the Women Air force Service Pilots (WASPs). She completed her training at the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and was later stationed in Romulus, Michigan, where she flew ferrying and administrative flights. In 1944, Lee attended Pursuit School in Texas becoming one of a select group of women qualified to fly high-powered, single-engine, fighter aircraft. 

“Lee was one of 132 pilots chosen to fly so-called “pursuit” planes, now known as a fighter aircraft.”

Lee died on November 25, 1944, as a result of injuries sustained in a collision in Great Falls, Montana. She was one of 38 WASPs who died in service. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted WASPs veteran status with full benefits.

Sources:

Katie Hafner, “Overlooked No More: When Hazel Ying Lee and Maggie Gee Soared the Skies,” The New York Times, May 21, 2020, sec. Obituaries, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/obituaries/hazel-ying-lee-and-maggie-gee-overlooked.html.“Hazel Ying Lee (1912-1944),” http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org, accessed January 11, 2021, https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/lee_hazel_ying/#.X_uiJy1h2Rt.

J. Peter Pham

Ambassador, Special Envoy for the Sahel Region of Africa, March 1, 2020 – Present

J. Peter Pham is the first and incumbent United States Special Envoy for the Sahel Region of Africa, having been appointed in 2020.

As Ambassador, Pham will be “coordinating America’s engagement with international and regional partners to address the threat from Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs) and prevent the VEO threat from impacting additional areas” (CITE). Pham is the first Vietnamese American to receive the personal rank of ambassador. 

Prior to being appointed ambassador, Pham was the vice president of the Atlantic council and Director of the Africa Center. He was also the vice president of the  Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) from 2008 to 2017. Pham has authored over 300 essays and reviews mainly focusing on African history, politics, and economics.

Sources:

“J. Peter Pham,” United States Department of State, accessed January 11, 2021, https://www.state.gov/biographies/j-peter-pham/.

“Peter Pham as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa,” United States Department of State, accessed January 11, 2021, https://www.state.gov/peter-pham-as-special-envoy-for-the-great-lakes-region-of-africa/.