Notable Figures & Moments in AAPI History to Celebrate This Week, from Kimora Lee Simmons to the Founding of Sony
All month long, we are honoring those who have impacted the world with their activism, inventions, achievements and more
May Marks the Start of AAPI Heritage Month
Every year during the month of May, we celebrate Asians and Pacific Islanders and their contributions to American culture. This month was specifically chosen to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was built by mostly Chinese immigrants, on May 10, 1869.
Every week, we'll be highlighting some of the most influential AAPI members and events in history.
May 1, 1978: Naomi Uemura Becomes the First Person to Reach the North Pole Alone
The heroic Japanese explorer was known for his many hair-raising expeditions, including his solo trip to the North Pole. Uemura was the first person in history to complete the arduous journey, and during his trek, he gathered evidence about air pollution and weather and took ice and snow samples for the Smithsonian Institution and for research institutes in Japan. Uemura was also the first man to climb Mount McKinley solo in 1970 and the first Japanese man to climb Mount Everest, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"Uemura just had this enormous vitality," Jim Wickwire, a prominent American mountaineer, told the outlet in 2004. "He was like a kid and it just came through."
In March 1984, the New York Times reported that the search for Uemura's body had come to a close after he was reported missing during one of his expeditions. The explorer was 43 when he died.
During his life, Uemura wrote several books about his adventures. After his death, his wife, Kimiko, published a book of personal letters she received from him between 1974 and 1983, and the Uemura Museum Tokyo in Itabashi City was erected in his honor.
May 2, 1921: Satyajit Ray, Who Helped Bring Indian Cinema to the World, Is Born
The celebrated filmmaker, who was born in Calcutta, India, to a Bengali family, was best known for his invaluable contributions to cinema, beginning with this directorial debut in 1955 with Pather Panchali. The film earned the Best Human Document award and was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, and was widely honored and recognized at several international film festivals.
By the time he passed in April 1992, Ray was regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers in the world. He was honored globally with India's highest cinema award, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, the Commander of National Order of the Legion of Honour in France and received an honorary award at the 64th Academy Awards.
In addition to films, Ray also wrote fiction and nonfiction, edited Sandesh, a children's magazine, and founded Calcutta's first film society in 1947.
May 3, 1913: The First Indian Full-Length Feature Film Premieres
Raja Harishchandra, a story based on Hindu mythology and India's first silent film, was released on this day in history.
The film was written, produced, directed and distributed by Dadasaheb Phalke, often referred to as the father of Indian cinema, and led the way for the birth of the Indian film industry.
May 4, 1975: Fashion Designer Kimora Lee Simmons Is Born
After she was discovered as a model and deemed the "Face of the 21st Century" by the late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, Simmons took the world by storm and never looked back.
In addition to her Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons fashion empire, the star has helped pave the way for reality television with her 2007 Life in the Fab Lane series and has had a long history with philanthropy, having established the Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship Fund to help students pursue careers in fashion.
May 5, 2008: South Korean Novelist Park Kyung Ri Dies
The distinguished author and poet is best known for her epic 20-volume novel Toji (Land in English), which chronicles how Koreans were affected by the Japanese occupation from 1897 to 1945. It was later adapted into a movie, television series and opera.
Park opened up the Toji Cultural Foundation, which also manages the Toji Cultural Center, to help foster new writers, and won several awards, including The Woltan Literature Award (1972), The Inchon Award (1990), the Gabriela Mistral Prize (1996) and was awarded one of South Korea's highest honors, the Order of Cultural Merit, Geum-gwan Medal, posthumously.
May 6, 1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act Becomes Law
The act officially prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years, then was extended in 1892 for another 10 and made permanent in 1902, according to the Library of Congress. By 1943, the ban was finally repealed.
The act was the first U.S. federal law that excluded an entire ethnic group, which set the stage for similar moments in a future U.S.
May 7, 1946: Technology Giant Sony Is Founded
The global conglomerate was founded by Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, and is now headquartered in Minato, Tokyo. Ibuka said that the purpose of the company was to "establish an ideal factory that stresses a spirit of freedom and open-mindedness that will, through technology, contribute to Japanese culture," according to Sony's website.
The company is responsible for creating many of the world's first electronics, including the first transistor-based videotape recorder, first direct-view portable transistor TV and Japan's first tape recorder and transistor radio. Sony has now expanded into gaming, entertainment and financial services.
May 8, 1936: Prolific Manga Writer Kazuo Koike Is Born
Koike, one of the manga world's master creators who's best known for Lone Wolf and Cub, Lady Snowblood and Crying Freeman, died on April 17, 2019, at 82.
His mangas inspired generations of writers, including crime writer Max Allan Collins, who wrote the graphic novel Road to Perdition, which was inspired by Lone Wolf and Cub, in 1998. The graphic novel was then adapted into the 2002 film starring Tom Hanks.
Koike established a training school for manga writers in 1977, later taught manga at Osaka University of Arts and was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Awards Hall of Fame in 2004, according to the Washington Post.
May 9, 1986: Mt. Everest Conqueror Tenzing Norgay Dies
The Sherpa mountaineer was one of the first two (the other being Sir Edmund Hillary) people to reach the top of Mount Everest.
“I feel Tenzing had a remarkable life. He was very successful in every field,” Hillary told the L.A. Times at the time of his climbing partner's death.
Before Tenzing's major feat, the mountaineer had once said that he had tried to climb Everest six times before he was actually successful. Tenzing died in the Himalayan mountain resort of Darjeeling in India’s West Bengal State, where he worked as an adviser to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, according to the L.A. Times.
May 10, 1986: Filipino Activist Andrés Bonifacio Dies
Often referred to as "The Father of the Philippine Revolution," Bonifacio founded Katipunan, a secret society and movement that fought for independence from Spanish colonial rule.
The national hero was tried and executed by his enemies on this day, and is honored with his own day every Nov. 30 in the Philippines.