May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and we are celebrating the history of Asian Pacific Islanders within the YMCA and beyond by sharing moments and individuals that were instrumental in the shaping of the Y movement and the world.

Chinatown YMCA

Did you know that the first Chinese American YMCA was founded in San Francisco in 1911? The Y held lectures on health, and education, classes in English and Mandarin, and even had a machine shop! To this day, the Chinatown YMCA plays a pivotal role in the community.

Duke Kahanamoku

Duke Kahanamoku was a gold medal Olympic swimmer who trained at the Central Y, setting world records for the 400 and 500 relay races in 1916. Following his Olympic career retirement, Kahanamoku traveled giving swimming exhibitions—it was during this time that he popularized the sport of surfing in the United States, which previously had only been known in Hawaii.

Fred Hoshiyama

Born in 1914, Fred Hoshiyama worked for the YMCA full time for 39 years—from 1941 through 1980—except for his time in a government internment camp during WWII. While in this camp, Hoshiyama created YMCA-based programs to help address the social, educational and recreational needs of the Japanese Americans held in the camp. Hoshiyama was also the founder and national director of YMCA’s National Youth Program Using Mini-Bikes and helped to establish the National Association of Student YMCAs in the 1970s, revitalizing the YMCA student movement. Today, a scholarship in his name provides professional development for Y staff of Asian Pacific Islander heritage.

Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a passionate advocate for women’s suffrage, led the charge for women’s rights from a young age. Immigrating to the US from China, she was instrumental in the NYC suffragist movement at just 16. Despite her own disenfranchisement due to her immigrant status, Lee tirelessly fought for women’s voices to be heard. She became the first Chinese woman to earn a US economics PhD and founded the Chinese Christian Center, still active today. In 2018, the Manhattan Chinatown Post Office was renamed in her honor, celebrating her lasting impact.

Dr. Lilian Wu

Dr. Lilian Wu has worked at IBM for nearly 50 years. She began as a researcher at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown and later became a consultant for IBM’s Vice President of Technology. Later, Dr. Wu was the Program Executive for IBM’s Global University Programs, where she managed research collaborations between IBM and university and government partners. Currently, she is an Emeritus Researcher for IBM.

As we honor the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans to our community and beyond, let us continue to celebrate diversity, embrace cultural richness, and strive for equity and inclusion. Together, we can build a brighter future where every voice is heard and every heritage is valued. Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!