Asian American contributors who shape our everyday lives

From iconic buildings to the websites we visit, our lives would be different without these contributions

Kimora Lee Simmons acknowledges the applause with her daughters Ming, left, and Aoki, following the showing of her spring 2009 Baby Phat collection during Fashion Week in New York, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008.
Kimora Lee Simmons acknowledges the applause with her daughters Ming, left, and Aoki, following the showing of her spring 2009 Baby Phat collection during Fashion Week in New York, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. (AP Photo)

If you ever visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or the Louvre or even Yahoo.com, you are enjoying just some of the many contributions of Asian Americans.

With creativity and innovation, they’ve changed the world’s landscape and impacted history right here in the United States.

For Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, let’s appreciate some notable Asian Americans and their life-changing contributions.


Architect I.M. Pei

I.M. Pei is considered one of the greatest modern architects, and has created well-known buildings around the world.

He’s best known for the Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, but you can also find his buildings here in the United States. Some of his designs include the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The Chinese American first studied architecture in 1935 and earned a bachelor’s degree from MIT and a master’s degree from Harvard. He then started his own architectural firm in 1955 and went on to design buildings around the world. A lot of his designs focus on geometric shapes, concrete and glass.

In this March 29, 1989, file photo, Chinese American architect I.M. Pei laughs while posing for a portrait in front of the Louvre glass pyramid, which he designed, in the museum's Napoleon Courtyard, prior to its inauguration in Paris. (AP Photo)

Web gurus Jerry Yang, Sabeer Bhatia and Steven Chen

Some of the websites we might visit every day are thanks to the contributions of Asian Americans.

Yahoo! was co-founded by Jerry Yang while he was studying at Stanford in 1994. The Taiwanese American co-created the internet website with David Filo and they called it “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” At the time, it offered a directory of other websites. Once it became more popular, they renamed it Yahoo! which was an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” The website was later sold to Verizon communications in 2016, and now the web portal includes a search engine, e-mail and news.

In this Jan. 7, 2008, file photo, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang gestures in the Yahoo booth after giving his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)

Speaking of e-mail, you can thank another Asian American for this popular service. Windows Live Hotmail was co-founded by Indian American businessman Sabeer Bhatia in 1996. Microsoft later bought it for $400 million and turned it into Microsoft Outlook.

You may have also heard of this little website called YouTube. That was co-founded by Taiwanese American entrepreneur Steven Chen. He played a key role in launching the company in 2005. Now he’s on the board for Asian Pacific Fund, a nonprofit organization that aims to uplift the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area through grants and services, scholarship programs and leadership.

YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley, left, and Steven Chen pose with their laptops at their office loft in San Mateo, Calif., in this March 29, 2006, file photo. (AP Photo)

The father of Mixed Martial Arts, Bruce Lee

Many credit famous Hong Kong American actor Bruce Lee as the father of Mixed Martial Arts.

As the story goes, he made the full-contact sport popular in the 1960s through his Jeet Kune Do, which features a hybrid philosophy of martial arts. Now the fighting match has been made popular here in the U.S. through UFC.

Actor Bruce Lee is considered the greatest icon of martial arts cinema, and is known for his roles in "Enter the Dragon" and "Fists of Fury," among others. Raised in Hong Kong, Lee came to America at age 18 and made a career teaching martial arts before he became an actor. (20th Century Fox)

Fashionistas Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, Vera Wang and Kimora Lee Simmons

Four Asian American designers are widely thought of as pioneers in the fashion industry in the 1980s and 1990s.

Anna Sui is known for her colorful designs, Vivienne Tam for her collections heavily influenced by traditional Chinese culture, Vera Wang for her wedding dresses and Kimora Lee Simmons for the Baby Phat brand and now JustFab.com. Their designs are used worldwide and are recognizable even decades later.

This Nov. 29, 2010 photo shows fashion designer Anna Sui during an interview in her showroom in New York. (AP Photo)

Ernest A. Hamwi, who made the ice cream cone popular

Although he didn’t technically invent the cone, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, Hamwi popularized it at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

The Syrian concessionaire was selling a crisp, waffle-like pastry and working in a booth right next to an ice cream vendor. The ice cream vendor then ran out of dishes, and Hamwi thought of a simple solution. He quickly rolled one of his wafer-like waffles into the shape of a cone and gave it to the ice cream vendor. The customers loved it, and now it’s a part of almost every ice cream shop you visit in America.

Ice cream (iStock / SoleilC)

Are there any other notable AAPI figures you think we should highlight? Post them in the comments below.


If you’re an Orlando reader, make sure to visit clickorlando.com/aapi for stories highlighting local Asian Americans around Central Florida.


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