RICHMOND — On Tuesday, August 3, the office of Governor Ralph Northam announced five new historical highway markers to be submitted for final approval this September. These signs will be in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
This past May, Gov. Northam announced that the signs would be chosen through the Commonwealth’s inaugural AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest. Virginia students, educators and families were encouraged to submit ideas for the new signs that were to recognize the recognize the achievements and history of AAPI Virginians.
“Through the Governor’s historical marker contests and various other initiatives, the Department of Historic Resources is determined to highlight untold stories and I am grateful to all the students and educators who have helped make this vision a reality,” said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “These students have made a meaningful contribution to our historic justice efforts and worked hard to ensure our markers are inclusive, diverse, and tell the full Virginia story.”
Two of the newly-approved signs will be installed in Hampton Roads; one in Williamsburg and another in Virginia Beach. The new signs will be:
- “Arthur Azo Matsu” (Williamsburg) nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.
- Text: Matsu graduated from William & Mary in 1927, where he was the first Asian American student. The son of a Scottish mother and a Japanese father, he became a leader on campus even as Virginia introduced a series of laws in the 1920s to prevent “race mixing.” He became the first Japanese-American football player in the National Football League as a quarterback, after guiding William & Mary’s high-octane offense from 1923–1926 and leading the program to its first postseason win.
- “Filipinos in the U.S. Navy” (Virginia Beach), nominated by students from Cherry Run Elementary School in Burke, Virginia and by the adult English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
- Text: Filipino members of the U.S. Navy have served in Hampton Roads since at least the Civil War. A full Filipino-American community began emerging after the Philippines achieved independence in 1946 and the Navy began recruiting Filipinos for all positions. Today, spurred by the Navy and a large nursing community, Hampton Roads is the second-largest Filipino community on the East Coast.
- “Kim Kyusik” (Salem), nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.
- Text: In 1903, Kyusik graduated from Roanoke College, which today funds a fellowship in his memory. He held several roles in the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea including foreign minister and vice president, and was a representative at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. He was kidnapped by North Korean factions after World War II and died in captivity.
- “W. W. Yen” also known as Yan Huiqing (Charlottesville) nominated by students from Hunters Woods Elementary in Reston, Virginia.
- Text: Yen graduated from the University of Virginia in 1900, where he was the first international student to earn a bachelor’s degree and the first Chinese student to earn a degree. One of China’s key early 20th century leaders, he served as premier five times and held a series of important cabinet and diplomatic posts. The University of Virginia now has a dorm and scholarship fund named after him.
- “Vietnamese Immigrants in Northern Virginia” (Falls Church) nominated by students at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia.
- Text: The Vietnamese community began solidifying in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood during the 1970s, becoming known as Little Saigon by the end of the decade. The fall of the South Vietnamese government spurred a surge in immigration, with the D.C. area becoming the third-largest Vietnamese community in the country. Climbing rents pushed much of the Vietnamese commerce west to the Eden Center in the 1980s, which over the ensuing years has expanded and became at one point the largest Vietnamese shopping district in the country.
“Throughout history, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have made significant contributions to our Commonwealth and our country, but too often their stories remain untold,” said Gov. Northam. “As we continue working to tell a more comprehensive and inclusive Virginia story, I am grateful for the efforts of Virginia students and educators in helping elevate the voices of prominent AAPI Virginians with these five new historical markers.”
The signs will be submitted to the Board of Historic Resources in September for final approval. The governor’s office notes that these will be among the first signs to honor Virginia’s AAPI residents.
The historic highway marker program was established in 1927. In is currently co-managed by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Currently, the Historic Triangle (City of Williamsburg, James City and York counties), City of Poquoson and Gloucester County have a total of 80 historic highway markers installed. A searchable database of Virginia’s historic highway markers can be found on VDHR’s website.