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THE 80 MOST INSPIRING ASIAN AMERICANS OF ALL TIME

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THE 80 MOST INSPIRING ASIAN AMERICANS OF ALL TIME

61. Margaret Cho
Margaret Cho      Back in 1994 comic Margaret Cho was hailed as the star of the first network TV show built around an Asian American family. When All-American Girl was cancelled during its first season, Cho's career went into a tailspin. It took four years to shake off the failure of Margaret Cho Lite and build the bigger, better full-strength version. It was worth the wait. In 1999 Cho took her one-woman show I'm the One I Want on the road. Its success laid the foundation for a mini-conglomerate fueled by the wellspring of laughter Cho manages to tap at the many absurdities of American society.

     Cho's four one-woman shows have been critically acclaimed and turned into films. She's now in the midst of a 26-city concert tour of her "Assassin" show and recently wrapped principal photography on Bam Bam and Celeste, her first narrative feature project. She has been honored by the National Organization for Women (NOW), GLAAD, Lambda Legal, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

     Margaret Cho has gone beyond speaking for the Asian American or gay and lesbiain perspectives. Today she is recognized as one of America's most penetrating and relevant voices. Her success inspires all Asian Americans to reject the limited roles assigned by the mainstream media and to grow as big as our talents allow.

62. Christine Poon
Christine Poon      No Asian American woman has exercised management responsibility over as large, prestigious and as dynamic a business Christine Poon. As Worldwide Chairman of Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceuticals group Christine Poon manages the biggest division of the Fortune 500's Number 30 company. Under Poon's leadership, since November 2000 J&J acquired five pharmaceutical companies and now gets over half of its $43 billion annual sales from Tylenol, Motrin and a long list of less famous medicines under Poon's division. By comparison, J&J's more famous consumer products division accounts for only 9% and its medical devices group for 36% of total revenues. In recognition of her success in leading J&J's drive to grow its global pharmaceuticals group to the level of giants like Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, in Poon was recently named a Johnson & Johnson Vice Chairman.

     Christine Poon grew up in Cincinatti. She graduated a year early from Northwestern University with a degree in biology. She worked briefly as a lab technician at USC before returning for a masters in biology and biochemistry from St. Louis University. The prospect of bigger paychecks motivated Poon to acquire an MBA from Boston University while working as a manager at New England Nuclear.

63. Chi Huang
Chi Huang      Why would the Medical Director of the Pediatrics Inpatient Services at Boston Medical Center spend every summer wandering the sewers of Bolivia? To save at least a few of the city's most hopeless street urchins from spending their entire lives there. The satisfaction of saving lives blighted by destitution and illness may be heavenly, but the working conditions are hellish.

     “The sewer smells like a dumpster in the summer,” says Huang. “When I pass a dumpster in Boston, it provokes memories of Bolivia. In that sewer, the stink of the feces and the urine mix with the odor of paint thinner.” Then there's the frigid air of Southern Hemisphere winters at 12,000 feet.

     Chi Huang isn't a total stranger to above-average hardships. Before he graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1998 he grew up in a South Carolina housing project and in one of the poorer sections of Texas. His immigrant parents struggled to make ends meet. “My Mother always bought pants that were several sizes too long,” Huang recalls. “I always got free lunches, while the other kids came to school with checks. At Christmas, I got socks.”

     Huang has set up a foundation to create Bolivia's best private school so that the urchins can look forward to brighter Christmases. [Learn more about Chi Huang's crusade at Bolivian Street Children Project.





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64. Ray G. Young
Ray Young      Managing the finances of the world's largest industrial company before the age of 40 is pretty good preparation for Ray G. Young's current post: President and Managing Director of GM do Brasil, General Motors's third-largest manufacturing operation. At 42, Young remains securely on what may be the steepest career path in the American corporate world.

     Young's family immigrated from Guangzhou, China in time for him to be born in Port Elgin. In high school Ray set academic records that stand to this day. Passing up offers from more prestigious colleges, he chose the University of Western Ontario for what's considered Canada's best business program. Young then rejected lucrative job offers to attend business school at the University of Chicago for an MBA. He then turned down offers from high-powered investment banks for an entry-level financial analyst for GM in 1986. The gamble paid off. Within two years he was promoted and transferred to GM's financial headquarters in New York.

     “I often worked until 2 in the morning,” Young recalls of those early years, “because I worried that if I slowed down a pace, I'd fall behind.”


65. Henry Cho
Henry Cho      An Asian guy with a good-ol'-boy twang is, well, funny, no questions asked. Fortunately, Knoxville native Henry Cho is in the business of getting laughs. Cho's rise to becoming America's most successful Asian male standup comic began at the age of 21 when he lucked into a slot in a New York comedy competition. He and a college buddy sketched out some material while driving to the club. The number of busted guts and bodies rolling into the aisles impressed the club enough to book Cho for two days later. That fast start in 1986 kicked off a blazing career that has landed him on countless national comedy shows, as both guest and host, as well as in a half-dozen movie roles.

     The happily married father of two has also distinguished himself by avoiding adult language and not keeping his material centered around race. The resulting package is wholesome and all-American, with an irresistable twist. It has found favor with the country-club/VIP circuit, as well as in mass-market venues, making Henry Cho -- now almost two decades into his career -- a prosperous family man and a bi-coastal bull-breeding Southern squire who divides his time between the L.A. area and Tennessee.
66. Norm Chow
Norm Chow      Football is, in many ways, the ultimate non-stereotypical sport for an Asian American. Not only is it brutally physical, it embodies a blend of teammwork, cunning and bold split-second timing that seems quintessentially American. One of the top masters of its dynamics is Chinese American Norm Chow. As USC's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator since January 2001, Chow is credited with mentoring Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinert and Carson Palmer. During his 27 years at BYU, Chow coached six of the NCAA's top 16 passing efficiency leaders who went on to become legendary NFL quarterbacks, including Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer.

     The Hawaii native helped the Trojans win two consecutive national championships (2003-4 and 2004-5) before joining the NFL's Tennessee Titans in early 2005 as offensive coordinator. Norm Chow learned football from the ground up. He started two years as offensive guard at Utah and was selected to that university's All-Century Team. His pro career began and ended in 1968 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders when he suffered a permanent knee injury.

67. Frank Jao
Frank Jao      Frank Jao is a symbol of the economic success of the Vietnamese who arrived in Southern California in the mid-70s when the site of today's Little Saigon was mostly strawberry fields. Upon arriving in 1975 Frank Jao saw the need for real estate brokers who spoke Vietnamese and lost no time earning a realtor's license. Within four years, he formed Bridgecreek Development to tap into both Vietnamese looking for investment opportunities and those wanting to open their own businesses in the Vietnamese enclave beginning to take shape in Westminster. Bridgecreek turned a small strawberry field into a 50,000 square foot strip mall that would form the heart of America's biggest Little Saigon.

     Having been the middle child of a very poor family with many kids, Frank Jao had learned early to seek out money-making opportunities. That keen eye has helped him develop over 4 million square feet of commercial and mixed use property throughout the West Coast. Today he is recognized as a leader of the region's Pan Asian American community. This prominence has given him the clout to help American companies establish themselves in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.

68. Robert Kiyosaki
Robert Kiyosaki      In the world fashioned by Hollywood Asian gurus wear flowing robes and spout metaphysical aphorisms to guide others along the evolutionary path to dealing whoopass to deserving baddies. In real life, there's Hawaii-born Robert Kiyosaki. His bestselling Rich Dad, Poor Dad has turned him into a financial guru who teaches others how to realize the eminently non-mystical dream of high personal wealth and early retirement.

     Kiyosaki himself retired at the age of 47, presumably from his ventures selling waterproof surfing wallets and financial advice. He used his own money to publish Rich Dad published in 1997. Its surprising success attracted the attention of Warner Business Books which republished it in April 2000. Since then the book has been a perennial bestseller. It has spawned follow-up titles Rich Dad's Guide to Investing, Rich Kid, Smart Kid, and a board and video game called Cashflow.

     We can't say whether Kiyosaki's books have turned anyone into millionaires. But it's inspiring to see a polo-shirt-clad Asian American giving materialistic advice on personal finance to millions of hard-headed Americans.

69. Albert Y. C. Yu
Albert C. Y. Yu      The Asian Americans role in building Silicon Valley is best embodied by Albert C. Y. Yu. How key was he? Extraterrestrials looking to abduct one human to replicate earth's chipmaking technologies would be smart to take him. Yu retired in September 2002 as Intel's chief technology boss for all microprocessor R&D after nearly 30 years, much of it as the brain behind its rise to global chipmaking dominance. Yu strategized the creation of six generation of microprocessors, from the 386 all the way to the latest Pentium 4 which has become the world's highest volume chip. He also led the teams that developed the ItaniumT processor family for the business server market.

     Yu's status as a Silicon Valley legend keeps his shiny dome ("I'm bald and unique," he has boasted as his primary distinctions.) very much in the spotlight. He sits on prestigious boards at Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard as well as the Tech Museum in San Jose. In addition to nearly three dozen technical works, he authored a Chinese-language best-seller entitled Insider's View of Intel and Creating the Digital Future (The Free Press, 1998).

     Yu was born in 1941 in Shanghai, China. He came to study electrical engineering at Cal Tech. His first paying job was soldering cables for high-energy physics experiments during his sophomore year. He went on to receive a masters and PhD from Stanford before meeting his fate at Fairchild Semiconductor, the company founded in part by Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce who left in July of 1968 to found Intel, then recruited Yu to become the company's technical mastermind.

70. Justin Lin
Justin Lin      Justin Lin justly owns the honor of having created the first successful film that talks to the American-born generation of young Asians. Better Luck Tomorrow finds in the laid-back suburbs of southern Orange County enough angst and frustration among Asian honor studens to fuel a mini-crime wave. It starts with hawking cribnotes and ends with murder. Unlike earlier Asian American films that seek identity and validity in Asian roots and culture, every impulse that propel BLT from start to finish is all-American with Asian faces. BLT can also be credited with giving the Asian American image a testosterone injection, and with helping to create new stars like John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go to White Kastle).

     Ironically Justin Lin was born in Taiwan. He went to UCLA film school and came back to his old high school to film the movie that would launch his career as a Hollywood director with green lights on full-budget projects like The Tenth Justice (2004), Spotlighting (2005), Annapolis (2005) and Oldboy (2006).
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