Chinese American Hero: Philip P. Choy

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philip-choyName in English: Philip P. Choy
Name in Chinese: 胡垣坤
Name in Pinyin:
Hú Yuánkūn
Gender: Male
Birth Year: 1926
Birth Place: San Francisco, CA
Philanthropy: Yes

Profession(s): Architect, Professor, Author, Activist

Education: BA, Architecture, 1950, University of California, Berkeley

Award(s): 2005, San Francisco State University President’s Medal; 2005, Commendation for Public Service, California State Historical Resources Commission;

Contribution(s): Philip P. Choy is an architect, but his major contributions were in his activism for Chinese American issues and history. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II. During his training in Mississippi, he witnessed pervasive segregation firsthand, which inspired his later efforts as an activist. After the war, he attended UC Berkeley, earned a degree in architecture, and was involved in residential and commercial design for fifty years.

During the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, Mr. Choy became president of the Chinese Historical Society. In 1969, he was asked to help co-teach the first college level course in the nation on Chinese American history with Him Mark Lai at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University.) In the same year he spoke at the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Transcontinental Railroad. The US Secretary of Transportation had gone before him and made a speech about how only “Americans” could have built such a wonder. Knowing that those Chinese American workers, many of whom had sacrificed their lives, had been barred by US law from becoming American citizens, Choy t0ld the assembled dignitaries in anger that the commemoration program was distorted, inaccurate, and reflected a white supremacy that was still ignoring the indispensable work of the Chinese Americans on the railroad.

Though he has retired from teaching, he still holds the title of Adjunct Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State and remains a major presence in the historic preservation of Chinese American heritage in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has served on the San Francisco Landmark Advisory Board and the California State Historical Resources Commission. He advocated the preservation of the Angel Island Immigration Station where so many Chinese Americans first arrived in the US, and wrote the case study to nominate it to the National Registry of Historic Places. He has been involved as a consultant in several projects, such as the construction of the life size diorama of Chinese Railroad workers at the Sacramento Railroad Museum.

In addition to his enormous time and effort contributions, Choy has also made very significant financial contributions for the Chinese Historical Society of America reaching the Pioneer’s Circle.

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