And we’re celebrating by featuring a badass Asian American woman from history each week.
Unfortunately, thanks to decades of racist immigration policies that kept people of Asian descent, and particularly women, from settling in the United States, the history of Asian American women is largely limited to the last 80 years.
That means our brainstorming session sounded something like, “Kristi Yamaguchi? 46 ain’t exactly historical” and “why can I only think of Amy Tan—like how far back in history?” But our history’s wide and rich in some deeply inspiring ways. So let’s get to it.
The interracial love behind Brown v. Board of Education
NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education, and later became the court’s first African American justice. But working with him on that case was Cecilia “Sissy” Suyat, a Filipino American secretary who later became his wife.
Born in Hawaii to Filipino immigrants, Suyat fell in love with a Filipino boy from a family that spoke a different dialect, and her dad balked.
So he sent her off to New York City to learn job skills and she promptly forgot about the boy and fell in love with the city instead.
And then in love with someone else
Suyat says when she looked for a job, the clerk saw her dark skin and promptly sent her to the NAACP. That early exposure to America’s racial issues stuck with her, and she stuck with the NAACP, becoming secretary to Gloster B. Current, head of the NAACP’s 1,500 branches nationwide.
When Thurgood Marshall took up the Brown case, Suyat typed up legal briefs for the team for four years. After, Marshall and Suyat started dating, despite opposition from friends and family, eventually marrying and raising two sons who would also dedicate their lives to public service.
— Jessica Yi, editor, would choose the city over a boy any day