First Asian American United States Senator Hiram Fong


Can You be a successful businessman and an inspiring politician? The embodiment of both these aspects happened in the life of the Asian American Senator Hiram Fong. We could say that he was an example of the American dream.

As the first Chinese descendant to be elected to Congress, and the first Asian Pacific American to be elected to the Senate he was a surrogate representative of Asian-American constituents at home, and an ambassador of American policies to Asian people abroad.

Hiram Leong Fong was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on October 15, 1906 as Yau Leong Fong. He was the child of Chinese immigrants from Guangdong Province, China. He worked from a very early age, but was also a persistent student and graduated in 1924 from McKinley High School. At his brother’s encouragement, he took the civil service examination (while still a high school senior) and started to work as a clerk at Pearl Harbor naval shipyard to pay for the costs of his college education. While In college, he adopted the name Hiram, but he legally changed it to Hiram in 1942. Also, in that period Fong developed ties with the Republican Party and after he graduated with honors in 1930 he became a clerk in the city’s public works department. The position was appointed to him by Mayor George Frederick Wright in whose mayoral campaign in Honolulu he served as a paid orator. After a few years passed Fong applied to Harvard Law School and was accepted. He took out a life insurance policy, in regards to his creditors, in case the worst occurs.

After obtaining his law degree in 1935 he returned to Honolulu, passed the bar and started working in the position of the attorney general's office. In the meantime he married his longtime sweetheart and teacher Ellyn Lo with whom he eventually had four children.

After a few years of working, he had to admit to himself that the work that he was doing was not all he was. He changed his mind, opened a private practice, and to promote it, he decided to go into politics and ran for office. Despite that he was a political newcomer he won one of six territorial seats in 1938 in a district encompassing much of the island of Oahu north of Honolulu.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fong took off two years while serving in the Territorial House to serve as a judge advocate in Honolulu at the 7th Fighter Command of the 7th Air Force. After returning, he was elected to the post of Vice Speaker (1944 - 1948). In the period of 1948 - 1954 he was elected to the post of Speaker and was recognized to work well with Democrats as well as his fellow Republicans. He was one of the foremost leaders that fought to make Hawaii a state.

Hiram also proved himself to be a quite successful businessman. After losing re-election due to the Hawaii Democratic Revolution of 1954 he decided to profit as a private citizen. His business endeavors ended up with the formation of several profitable companies aside from him being a lawyer. The law firm of Fong, Miho, Choy and Robinson took a lot of pride because of representation of Honolulu's Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Caucasian populations. Other successful companies include Finance Factors, Finance Realty, Finance Home Builders, Finance Investment, Finance Factors Foundation and Market City, among others. His business endeavors implied a retirement from politics but the implication proved to be wrong.

On August 24, 1954. Hawaii became a State and Hiram Fong became the first Hawaiian in the U.S. Senate. He also won re-election for two more full terms. His fight to make Hawaii a State was succesful.



Image credits: 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hiram_Fong.jpg

Regarding his efforts as a Senator, he voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1960, 1964 and 1968 as well as the 24th Amendment of the U.S Constitution. Another Act he supported is the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, he wrote an amendment to have poll watchers monitor the voting process and guarantee safety of the elections. Regarding foreign policy he was a strong supporter of the Vietnam war which left many of Asian Americans displeased, causing him to lose votes in the 1970 election, his last reelection campaign according to Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Although Hawaiian interests were of great importance, Fong also focused his attention to international affairs, defense policy and immigration. Between the first and second session of the 86th Congress (1959 - 1961) he undertook a self - funded tour of 13 Asian nations. He felt that they were winning the minds of people in free and neutral Asian countries. He urged the use of soft power which meant using economic and cultural influence to battle communism. He wanted to inspire freedom loving people to see an example in the U.S. for achievement of their own ideals. The immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 discarded racial formula for immigration quotas for Asians as outdated, which resulted in a high rate of immigration of Asian professionals.

Regarding Hawaii issues, he secured funding for federal highways on the islands which is one of his greatest achievements in Congress. One of his first successful bills is the Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. In 1960 and 1962 he drafted legislation raising wages for federal employees. Fong also used his influence to seek federal grants for public works in Hawaii such as dams and harbor improvements.

After 1977., in his retirement, he faced several lawsuits including one with his son regarding a family business issue, and he and his wife eventually had to declare bankruptcy. In his retirement he devoted his attention to gardening (a hobby which he started in 1950.) which he also turned into a grand venture. He ultimately created a 725 acre horticultural wonderland in Kahaluu, Oahu. Hiram Fong was found there working and enjoying talking to visitors until his death at the age of 97.


References:

https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/15032451315

https://senatorfong.com/bio_sketch.html

https://goldsea.com/Personalities/Inspiring/fonghiram.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Fong#Territorial_politics


Mislav Zlomisli─ç is a digital marketing intern of PS Media Enterprise. He is a former student of Zagreb school of economics and management, Zagreb, Croatia

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