The top 10 amazing Asian American achievers of 2010

By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly

1. Lt. Dan Choi

A Korean American West Point graduate, Dan Choi became the face of the movement against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). He is known for being discharged from the U.S. Army in June after he admitted that he is gay. Since then, he has become a gay rights activist, penning an open letter to President Barack Obama against DADT.

On Oct. 12, U.S. Federal Judge Virgina Phillips ordered the Department of Defense to halt DADT. This was in response to a federal court decision that struck down the DADT policy. On Oct. 19, Choi went to the New York City Times Square military recruitment station to re-enlist in the U.S. Army. His request is being processed.

2. Asian students in south Philadelphia

On Dec. 3, a youth power rally was held in south Philadelphia to commemorate an 8-day 2009 boycott that marked a turning point for Asian students who were constantly being bullied by Black students.

Racism would no longer be tolerated in their schools. Vietnamese immigrant Duong Ly realized that the system must change and that he and his fellow immigrants were the ones that needed to make that happen. Ly and about 50 other Asian students boycotted school for a week. The boycott was not easy, since the students were afraid of being expelled. However, once it started, the community’s attitude changed. The students’ voices were finally being heard. In 2010, security cameras were installed and diversity clubs were created to help alleviate the racial issues.

3. Phyllis Wise

Phyllis Wise became the first Asian American and female president at the University of Washington. On July 8, the UW Board of Regents named Wise the interim UW president. Despite the large percentage of Asian Americans enrolled at the UW, their numbers are drastically low in university upper management. Wise, who is Chinese American, was formerly executive vice president at the UW. Wise is considered a leading researcher in women’s health and biology. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. She served as dean of biological sciences at the University of California, Davis, before being hired by her predecessor, Mark Emmert, in 2005.

4. Nikki Haley

In November, Nikki Haley was elected governor of South Carolina, becoming the first female and Indian American to win a term in the state’s top office. Haley was born in South Carolina to Sikh immigrants from India. Republican Haley beat Democrat Vincent Sheheen, a state senator, in a race that was much closer than early polls suggested. In a controversial campaign race, Haley denied allegations of extramarital affairs with two different men. However, Gov. Mark Sanford, Haley’s former mentor, was exposed for a clandestine visit to his Argentine girlfriend. At the time, Sheheen tried to exploit the Haley-Sanford connection, but to no avail.

5. Hansen Clarke

Democrat Hansen Clarke became the first person of Bangladeshi descent to serve in the U.S. Congress.

He was born in Detroit, Mich., to a Bangladeshi American father and African American mother. Clarke was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1990 and served one term. Later, in 1998 and 2000, Clarke was re-elected to the Michigan House after being defeated in the Democratic primary in 1992 by Joe Young Jr. In August 2010, Clarke beat seven-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick in the Democratic primary in Michigan’s 13th District. He later defeated Republican John Hauler in the election and made history for Bangladeshi Americans.

6. Tani Cantil-Sakauye

Filipino American Tani Cantil-Sakauye was elected as California’s newest Supreme Court chief justice.

She made history as the first Asian American and youngest jurist to hold the highest position in any state judiciary in the country. On July 21, 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated Cantil-Sakauye to succeed retiring Chief Justice Ronald M. George. On Aug. 25, the three-member California Commission on Judicial Appointments unanimously approved her nomination as the next chief justice of the state. The voters in the November 2010 general elections subsequently retained her for a 12-year term as chief justice. Cantil-Sakauye was sworn in on December 3, 2010. She takes office on Jan. 3, 2011.

7. Kamala Harris

On Jan. 3, 2011, Kamala Harris will become the first female, African American, and Asian American attorney general for the state of California. She will also become the first Indian American attorney general in the United States. She became the attorney general-elect after the 2010 California state elections. During the election, she was the front-runner, obtaining endorsements of prominent politicians such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Harris was born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican American father in Oakland, Calif.

8. Gary Locke

On Aug. 10, 2010, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Lock reported $1.6 billion in 2010 census savings.

Taxpayer dollars have been saved due to an effective public outreach campaign and careful management. In the first full year of census management by the Obama administration and in a time of tightened federal resources, the census came in 22 percent under budget. The savings were broken down into reserve resources that were set aside for natural disasters or operational breakdowns. Labor intensive, door-to-door, follow-up operations were set up because 72 percent of households returned the questionnaire by mail. In addition, a number of other census operations came in at a reduced cost.

The Census Bureau is required by law to report, by year’s end, the nation’s population and proper apportionment of state seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

9. Kal Penn

Indian American actor Kal Penn, whose real name is Kalpen Modi, has returned to the White House.

After a hiatus from the political arena to work on the third installment of “Harold and Kumar,” a stoner comedy, Penn returned to a new position as an associate director in the Office of Public Engagement. In his previous position, Penn made headlines in July 2009 after he left Hollywood to join the Obama administration as a liaison to the Asian American and arts communities. His first day back in Washington was Nov. 15.

10. Wallace Loh

A native of Shanghai, Wallace Loh is the first Asian American president to lead the University of Maryland. Loh, with 30 years’ experience in higher education, left his post as executive vice president and provost of the University of Iowa. The Board of Regents at UMD conducted an extensive search for several months to replace Dan Mote, who served as university president for 12 years. After considering 300 applicants and conducting 18 interviews, school officials said they found the right person. Loh credits much of his success to his life experiences. Loh came to the United States five decades ago. He started his term on Nov. 1, 2010.

Honorable mention: Euna Lee and Laura Ling

Afer being detained by North Koreans in 2009, journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling returned home safely due to negotiations between former President Bill Clinton and Kim Jong Il. Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to the North Korean leader for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Laura Ling and her sister, Lisa Ling, have since written a book about the incident, “Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other Sister’s Fight to Bring Her Home.” It was published in 2010. ♦

Nina Huang can be reached at

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3 Responses to “The top 10 amazing Asian American achievers of 2010”

  1. Dr. Ajit S and Raj Randhawa are delighted to see our daughter Nikki Randhawa Haley among the 10 amazing Asian American achievers of 2010. We have high hopes with great confidence that she will serve the people to South Carolina as a Reformer and common sense leader. As parents we are so honored and we congratulate all the “Amazing” achievers of 2010. May God help all of them to fulfil their missions to improve humanity and peace around the world.

    We are humbled by God’s grace to witness Nikki’s challenges and opprtunities to make a difference. God bless these Amazing Achievers We are proud of every one of them.
    Ajit S. Randhawa PhD
    South Carolina


  1. […] are a number of lists for things Asian American.  Northwest Asian Weekly has put out a list of the top 10 Asian American Achievers for 2010.  Heading their list is Lt. Dan Choi and his struggle to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Martell Thornton. Martell Thornton said: The top 10 amazing Asian American achievers of 2010: 25, the three-member California Commission on Judicial Appo… […]

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