The top 10 Asian achievements of 2009

By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly

1. Anh “Joseph” Cao

This year, Anh “Joseph” Cao became the first Vietnamese American to serve in the U.S. Congress. He represents Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district, which covers New Orleans. He is the first Republican to serve that district since 1890. Rep. Cao drew criticism from fellow party members after he cast the sole Republican vote for the house’s health care bill (HR-3962). Rep. Cao serves on the Homeland Security, Transportation, and Infrastructure, and Oversight and Government Reform committees.

2. Judy Chu

In July, Dr. Judy Chu became the first Chinese American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. The Los Angeles-born Democrat represents California’s 32nd district. She currently serves on the House Judiciary and Government Oversight committees.  Rep. Chu filled the vacant seat left by Hilda Solis, who President Obama appointed as Labor Secretary. Over the past two decades, Chu has served as a school board member, mayor, and city council member in the Los Angeles County area. She also worked as a state assembly member and member of the California State Board of Equalization.

3. Gary Locke

In March, former Washington governor Gary Locke was sworn into office as the nation’s 36th Secretary of Commerce. He is the first Chinese American to assume the post. Secretary Locke is credited with bolstering the nation’s economy and strengthening economic ties with foreign countries. Prior to his appointment, Secretary Locke worked as a partner in the Seattle office of international law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, where he co-chaired the firm’s China practice.

4. Steven Chu

In March, Steven Chu became the first Asian American to serve as U.S. Secretary of Energy. He currently works to help the nation invest in alternative energy sources, reduce its dependency on foreign oil, and address climate change issues. Prior to his appointment, Chu taught at the University of California and served as director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997.

5. Eric K. Shinseki

In January, retired U.S. Army General Eric K. Shinseki was sworn in as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He is the first Asian American to hold the position. He works to ensure quality services and timely benefits to veterans and their families. The Vietnam War vet served as the Bush Administration’s Army Chief of Staff until he retired in 2003. He was criticized by some and praised by others for questioning Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s strategy in Iraq. Secretary Shinseki was also the first Asian American in U.S. history to become a four-star general.

6. Meira Kumar

In June, Meira Kumar was unanimously elected as the first woman speaker of India’s lower house of parliament. She oversees more than 543 members of the predominantly male chamber. Kumar comes from the Dalit class, which is considered the lowest rung in India’s centuries-old caste system.  She is a former diplomat and five-term Member of Parliament.

7. Charles K. Kao

Shanghai-born Charles K. Kao was one of three recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. The Swedish Academy of Sciences honored Kao for his breakthrough discovery in the field of fiber optics. In 1966, Kao determined how to transmit light across long distances through optical glass fibers. His work has paved the way for other scientists and has revolutionized modern global communications. The other portion of the award was given to Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith for their invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit.

8. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan is one of three recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Indian-born molecular biologist was honored for his research contributions surrounding DNA, and more specifically regarding the structure and function of the ribosome. Ramakrishnan and his fellow Nobel Laureates developed a visual representation of the ribosome at an atomic level.

9. Ada E. Yonath

Israeli-born Ada E. Yonath shares this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She, along with her co-recipients, used a method called X-ray crystallography to map the position of each of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that constitute the ribosome. Their discoveries have helped scientists develop new antibiotics. The third recipient of the award is American scientist Thomas A. Steitz.

10. Efren Penaflorida

Filipino social worker and teacher, Efren Penaflorida, became a global icon after he was named CNN’s Hero of the Year. The 28-year-old received the award at a star-studded ceremony that aired worldwide on the cable network in November. Penaflorida was honored for his role in operating a “pushcart classroom,” which provides education and supplies to poor Filipino youth as an alternative to gang membership. Penaflorida received the honor after online users cast more than 2 million votes, and he was selected among 9,000 nominees. ♦

Evangeline Café can be reached at

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