AsianWeek wants to salute Heroes and Noble Contributors in our Asian American community, initially focusing on the largest group of Asian Americans, the Chinese Americans. With Chinese Americans spread across the nation and in history, this would be formidable and time consuming search, except for one special organization – Chinese American Heroes, a 501c3 non-profit entity, that has been seeking out and writing an ever growing number of biographies, currently consisting of over 100 Chinese American heroes and heroines.
In the weeks ahead, we will be spotlighting some of the biographies gathered on their website and sharing their stories with our readers.
The heroic and important contributions these oftentimes unknown Chinese Americans have made to America and the world surprised us, maybe you too. We hope that these biographies will also provide an effective response to the schoolyard taunts about who real Americans are.
Our first candidate is Mr. Zhe “Zack” Zeng, who meets any definition of hero. Many people have never heard of Zack, but he was one of the heroes of 9/11 who wasn’t a firefighter or police officer. He was just an ordinary citizen on his way to work at the Bank of New York that morning. Instead of dashing away to save himself as the World Trade Center towers were engulfed in smoke and flames, Zack, without any protective gear, charged into one of the burning towers and pulled survivors and the injured out of harm’s way, rendering first aid as he went. He had been a certified emergency medical technician for a volunteer ambulance company for three years in college.
Tragically, Zack became a victim himself when the towers collapsed. No one would have known about his heroism, had it not been for one television camera which recorded his heroics. Weeks later, as Zack’s mother watched television accounts of that day, she was stunned to see her son’s heroic efforts and notified the broadcast station.
On 9/11/04, after Zack’s DNA signature was verified, the highest officials of the City and State of New York held a special ceremony to honor this true American hero. Zack’s mom was presented a variety of medals and also a special memorial United States flag which had been flown over the US Capitol in Washington. The New York City Council also presented a resolution naming a street, Zhe “Zack” Zeng Way.
How are distinguished individuals selected to be Heroes and/or Noble Contributors on the website? CAH President David Chai says that this is one of the greatest challenges for the organization. Many hours of intense discussion have taken place and the precise definition of a “Hero” still eludes clear definition except in those few indisputable cases where a hero sacrificed their life in saving others as Zack did. Decisions are the majority of cases are driven by professional peer recognition, appropriate awards, recognition by respected academics and historians especially in the cases of early Chinese Americans, or a combination of these factors.
Why is anyone spending so much time and effort in developing and maintaining such a website? Helen Zia, also an honoree of the website, talked about the lives of Chinese American Heroes and Noble Contributors being “missing in history.” That would be very tragic, not just to those Heroes, but to all Americans when heroic deeds go unnoticed and are forgotten. Today, more then ever, we all need the inspiration that these heroic examples provide, and they are role models to help the rest of us mortal deal with adversity and difficult times.
The team at Chinese American Heroes, including President David Chai, Managing Editor Philip Chin, and Roger Dong encourages everyone to submit the names and deeds of potential Heroes for evaluation and vetting. Finding most of the heroes based solely on CAH’s limited research efforts would be impossible without the help of fellow Americans. Once they are found though, CAH will need competent and motivated writers to join them in writing the stories. If you have the writing skills and motivation to make an impact please visit www.chineseamericanheroes.org for examples of the biographies needed for this project and to get into contact.
In the weeks ahead AsianWeek will share with our readers more stories and biographies from www.chineseamericanheroes.org. Check in daily to read about our Hero for the Day. Some days we will spotlight Heroines, other days we may showcase rising stars. We plan to dedicate a week or two for heroes in key professions like engineering, medicine, social services, the arts, the military, or other profession. Our thanks to the Chinese American Heroes organization for sharing their findings about these great Americans with Asian Week.