The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
The following is guest post by Louise Baker, a freelance author and journalist. Her post is a brief profile of Five Asian Americans Who Changed the World. Feel free to nominate other possible famous Asian Americans who changed the world in the comments section.
1. Bruce Lee: One of the most famous martial artists of all time, and one of the most influential pop culture figures of the twentieth century. An athlete, actor, and philosopher, Lee’s exceptional talent and pan-racial appeal helped him to break many color barriers for protagonists in American cinema. During his lifetime, Lee’s name became synonymous with Asiatic martial arts, and remains so to this day, nearly forty years after his death. Lee’s enduring legacy and cross-cultural personal appeal place him in a rarified pantheon of iconic American actors of ageless popularity.
2. Jerry Yang: Co-founded Yahoo!, one of the first popular search engines of the internet era. Debuting in the mid-1990’s, Yahoo! offers both experienced and novice web users a way to search for entertainment and information, and did double duty in its early days as a web directory for a variety of topics. One of the architects of the internet as we know it today, Yang’s massive contribution to the world began as a side project with his friend, David Filo, while both were pursuing doctoral degrees at Stanford University. Today, Yahoo! remains one of the most popular sites and networks on the web.
3. Tiger Woods: One of the best golfers of all time, and one of the first minorities to achieve superstardom in that sport, Woods’s youth, charisma, and star appeal brought an element of glamour to his profession that had previously been absent. Having shattered the stereotypes of the typical professional golfer in both age and race, Woods has singlehandedly made his sport of choice seem far more accessible, more inclusive, and more glamorous to the general public than ever before. The global influence of Woods on golf can be seen in the popular champion’s vast number of endorsement deals.
4. Steven Chu: A Nobel Prize winning physicist, who won the aforementioned award as the result of his groundbreaking work in laser cooling technologies, Chu is the current Secretary of Energy of the United States. Chu’s current focus as Energy Secretary is largely on the development of alternative fuel technologies, with particular attention to the possibilities of a “glucose economy,” wherein the various byproducts of sugar might be cultivated and used as fuel on a scale large enough to power the modern world. Chu’s vision, precision, and commitment to excellence might just set the tone for new technologies to come.
5. I.M. Pei: Considered one of the masters of modern architecture, Pei is responsible for designing such iconic buildings as the Bank of China building in Hong Kong, the Louvre Pyramid, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Boston’s Hancock Tower. With his work firmly ensconced as part of the backdrop for many world-class cities, Pei’s work has been an unmistakably powerful influence on art and architecture around the globe.
Louise Baker is a freelance author and journalist. She currently writes about online degrees for Zen College Life, where she most recently ranked the top online colleges.
If you haven’t heard already, this past Sunday, South Korean Y.E. Yang won the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Championship by stunning heavy favorite Tiger Woods. This was Yang’s first ‘major’ PGA win (there are four tournaments each year that are considered “majors” — the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship) and only his second overall PGA victory, while Tiger had been undefeated when leading a major PGA tournament going into the final round. As Sports Illustrated points out, this was also the first major PGA victory by an Asian-born player:
[Yang's victory was] memorable as much for his clutch shots as the player he beat. Woods was 14-0 when he went into the final round of a major atop the leaderboard. He had not lost any tournament around the world in nine years when leading by two shots.
None of that mattered to Yang, a 37-year-old South Korean who hit the shots everyone expected from Woods. Leading by one on the final hole, Yang slayed golf’s giant with a hybrid 3-iron that cleared the bunker and settled 12 feet from the cup. Yang made the birdie putt and shouted with joy as he pumped his fist. That gave him a 2-under 70, and a three-shot victory. . . .
His victory is massive for Asia, the fastest-growing market in golf. Perhaps even more significant is that the way he stood up to Woods, the world’s No. 1 player whose heritage is half-Asian through his Thai-born mother. Yang and K.J. Choi are the only PGA Tour players who learned golf in South Korea before coming to America. South Koreans have had far more success on the LPGA Tour, with seven players combining to win 11 majors. . . .
Asian-born players had come close in the majors – Liang-Huan Lu of Taiwan finishing one shot behind Lee Trevino at the 1971 British Open, and T.C. Chen’s famous two-chip gaffe that cost him a chance at the 1985 U.S. Open, where he was runner-up to Andy North. This could be a big breakthrough for Asian players, especially with a World Golf Championship starting this year in China.
First, Yang’s victory is a significant individual achievement for him as a professional golfer. Not only is this victory his first major win, but it was just his second overall PGA win. Very few golfers are able to win a major with such a relatively short victory list. He was ranked just 110th in the world (with Tiger ranked at #1) and actually had to do well in supplemental tournaments in order to qualify to play in a major such as this PGA Championship. So a win like this is certainly significant for him personally.
Secondly, Yang’s victory is also representative of a larger emerging trend — how golf is increasingly become more Asian and Asian American. It was Tiger Woods (who is half Asian and half Black) who first started this trend when he burst on the scene 13 years ago. Then women’s professional golf (the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association, LPGA) saw an influx and emergence of several successful Asian and Asian American golfers (many from South Korea), with Se Ri Pak being the first. Then last year, Asian American Anthony Kim had his coming out party, helping the U.S. team beat the Europeans in dramatic fashion at the prestigious Ryder Cup.
The video clip from CNN discusses the recent emergence of golf in Asia:
I would not be surprised to see more Asian and Asian American golfers emerge and achieve consistent success in the next few years. In fact, in addition to Anthony Kim, another South Korean, K.C. Choi, has been making a name for himself recently as well. It remains to be seen whether such Asian and Asian American golfers can achieve the same level of success as their female counterparts in the LPGA and whether any of them can dethrone Tiger Woods as the number one golfer on the planet (no player has for any extended amount of time in the past 13 years).
Nonetheless, I’m confident we’ll be hearing names like Yang, Choi, Kim, and other Asian surnames more often in the years to come.
Time magazine has released its annual list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and I highlight the Asians or Asian Americans on the list (descriptions are from Time magazine):
Leaders & Revolutionaries
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (President of Indonesia)
The country’s transition from authoritarianism has proved that as a democracy, Indonesia can be culturally vibrant and economically prosperous. Since winning the presidency in 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has managed to keep the nation afloat, even during the current global recession. . . The time is right for Indonesia, as the world’s most populous Muslim nation, to assume a more prominent position in Asia and throughout the Muslim world. In response to President Obama’s warm overtures to Muslim countries for a new phase in relations with the U.S., Yudhoyono can take the lead and chart a new course for the region.
Wang Qishan (Vice Premier of China)
He is the man China’s leaders look to for an understanding of the markets and the global economy. As a result, China has been supportive of U.S. actions to stabilize our capital markets and has not given in to those who advocate reversing economic reform to insulate China from the world. . . . Wang managed the largest bankruptcy restructuring in China’s history in 1998 and thereby prevented a banking crisis that could have crippled the country’s growth.
Ashfaq Kayani (Pakistan Army’s Chief of Staff)
General Kayani, 57, commands an army with troops fighting in what President Barack Obama has rightly called the “most dangerous place in the world.” He’s lost more than 1,000 soldiers in that fight. He knows the stakes. He’s got a plan.
Xi Jinping (Vice President of China)
As Vice President of China, Xi is considered the most likely candidate to assume the country’s presidency in 2012. You can already feel the Chinese system starting to flex as it prepares to make way for him. . . . Xi’s own experiences as a provincial leader and his firm politician’s instinct suggest that he is trying to knit the interest groups of China’s ruling Communist Party into something capable of executing the difficult political and economic reforms that have become essential. The running joke in Beijing is that anytime there is a potentially nasty task, Xi gets it: the Olympics last summer, and now an urgent new working group on social stability.
Builders & Titans
Nandan Nilekani (Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Infosys Technologies)
Infosys, the information-technology-services giant, was India’s first truly global company, and its core entrepreneurial insight was that spectacular success can be achieved through innovative, ethical and transparent business-management practices. In the process, Nandan, 53, became both a corporate icon and India’s brand ambassador. . . . As the new India, fueled by its robust democracy and favorable demographics, seeks to make the transition from a developing nation to a developed one, it will need the vision and talent of people like Nandan Nilekani.
Jack Ma (Chinese Internet Entrepreneur)
As founder and CEO of Alibaba.com, Ma, 44, runs one of the world’s biggest B2B online marketplaces, an eBay for companies doing international trade. Alibaba and Ma’s consumer-auction website, Taobao.com, did so well that in 2006, eBay shut down its own site in China.
Artists & Entertainers
Lang Lang (Chinese Pianist)
He has started the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, dedicated to supporting young pianists around the world. You hear him play, and he never ceases to touch your heart. And he’s fearless. He’s not afraid to burst the bubble of false élitism.
A.R. Rahman (Indian Musician)
A.R. Rahman, 43, dominates the music industry so totally that he has supplied the sound track for a whole generation. He enjoys the godlike devotion of India’s youth, but everyone from the street child who sweeps train platforms to the middle-aged doctor in Mumbai’s posh Malabar Hill hums his tunes. . . . Renowned for his immense range, he’ll do a traditional score for a conventional film, then blend exotic vocals with Japanese music and Western classical arrangements in his next project. A veritable Pied Piper, he has no competition, yet he makes it a priority to discover new talent and promote it.
Heroes & Icons
Somaly Mam (Cambodian-French Activist and Humanitarian)
[As a result of the Khmer Rouge's genocide], 12-year-old Mam was sold into sexual slavery by a man who posed as her grandfather. She eventually ended up in a Phnom Penh brothel, beginning a decade of horrific rape and torture. She describes this period of her life simply: “I was dead. I had no affection for anyone.” . . . In 1996, Mam created a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, or Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) that works with local law enforcement to raid brothels and reintegrate the trafficked women into society. . . . She has paid a terrible personal price for doing so, enduring death threats and assaults. In an effort to deter her work, brothel owners even kidnapped, drugged and raped Mam’s then 14-year-old daughter in 2006. Most people would have walked away. Mam continues to fight back so that others can be spared the pain she once suffered.
Suraya Pakzad (Afghani Activist and Humanitarian)
It is difficult to name a more committed advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan. A recipient of the 2008 International Women of Courage Award, Pakzad is the founder of the Voice of Women Organization, committed to providing Afghan women with shelter, counseling and job training. Her shelters give abused women safe haven, legal services and long-term protection. She has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about gender-based violence that victimizes Afghan women.
Tiger Woods (American “Cablinasian” Golfer)
You rarely see an athlete who single-handedly changes an entire sport. When Tiger couldn’t play last year because of an injury, golf ratings suffered. He has changed the way golfers train and prepare themselves and has brought huge numbers of new fans to the sport. . . . We should all enjoy it. We may never see a golfer like this again.
Manny Pacquiao (Filipino Championship Boxer and Humanitarian)
Pound for pound, Manny Pacquiao is the best boxer in the world. But even more important than holding that distinction, Manny has connected with the people of his home country, the Philippines, to the point where he’s almost like a god. The people have rallied behind him and feel like they’re a part of him, because they can see his talent, his dedication, his grace and his class. The grip he holds over the Philippines is similar to Nelson Mandela’s influence in South Africa.
Scientists & Thinkers
Steven Chu (Chinese American Secretary of Energy)
Chu, 61, won the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his esoteric studies in physics. . . Perhaps Chu’s greatest impact, however, has been in the area of energy. Long a vocal advocate of weaning the U.S. from its dependence on fossil fuels, he was picked by President Barack Obama for both his ability and his candor. With the future of the earth’s climate dependent on rethinking the ways we consume energy, both skills will be needed in equal measure, but it’s the candor part that might be the most refreshing.
Yoichiro Nambu (Japanese Physicist)
Scientists have always sought symmetry in nature, meaning laws that are the same in all circumstances. Nambu realized that when a situation occurs that defies symmetry, a new particle is born. . . . A major task of the Large Hadron Collider, the particle accelerator near Geneva that was turned on last year, will be to search for a particle known as the Higgs boson that, according to Nambu’s theory, is responsible for breaking the symmetry between electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. . . . Nambu shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics.