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SFSU President's Medal awarded to Philip P. Choy and Him Mark Lai



Denize Springer
SFSU Office of Public Affairs & Publications
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Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications


Bay Area historians first in the nation to teach course in Chinese American history

SAN FRANCISCO, October 19, 2005 -- San Francisco natives Philip P. Choy and Him Mark Lai have received the prestigious San Francisco State University (SFSU) President's Medal for their pioneering work in Chinese American history and education. Awardees are selected by SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan and honored for outstanding contributions to the University that have long-lasting and widespread benefits to SFSU students and faculty.

Choy, an architect, and Lai, a mechanical engineer, have recorded, researched and taught Chinese American history for almost a century combined. In 1969 at SFSU they taught the first college-level course in Chinese American history ever. The course was a building block on which SFSU founded the first College of Ethnic Studies in the United States.

"These two men made history," Corrigan said. "When a community had no place to find out about itself they provided the road map and introduced students and our nation to the first Chinese American history course ever taught at a U.S. college or university." The two scholars received their medals at the 2005 Chinese American Studies Conference in San Francisco on Oct. 7.

Choy was president of the Chinese Historical Society of America when he was tapped to teach at SFSU. He has served on the San Francisco Landmark Advisory Board and the California State Historical Resources Commission and was an early advocate for the preservation of the Angel Island Immigration Station. The co-author of two books including "A History of Chinese in California: A Syllabus," said he committed himself to this work because he felt "knowing history might heal wounds."

Lai is the author and co-author of many books and articles about the Chinese American experience including "Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-40" and his most recent book, "Becoming Chinese American: A History of Communities and Institutions," published in 2004. He is the founder of "In Search of Roots," an educational program that imparts the importance of history and heritage to young Chinese Americans. After accepting the award, Lai quoted from a Chinese proverb.

"'The times and circumstances create the hero,'" he said. "I just happened to be able to provide the services needed in the right place at the right time."

Previous SFSU President's Medal recipients include Sen. Dianne Feinstein, philanthropist Richard Goldman, actress Annette Bening, author Ernest Gaines and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

SFSU's Asian American Studies Department was established in fall 1969 and is the largest of four departments in the SFSU College of Ethnic Studies. Instruction focuses on the history of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Mixed Heritage Asian Americans. Baccalaureate and master's degrees are conferred. For details about SFSU's programs in Asian American studies, visit:


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Last modified October 20, 2005, by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications