Featured Document Display: Celebrating Anna May Wong

Thursday, April 27, 2023 - Monday, June 19, 2023
East Rotunda Gallery

“I want to be an actress, not a freak.”

Film legend Anna May Wong’s talent could not be contained by the racist casting of early Hollywood movies. Born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong ditched school to sneak onto film sets. She appeared in her first film at age 14 and quickly became a star. Although frustrated by the Asian stereotypes she was forced to play, she appeared in over 60 films and became the first Chinese American international star. 

Records in the National Archives document one of the other realms where Wong experienced discrimination: verifying her U.S. citizenship and legal residence in the United States.



Application of American citizen for Anna May Wong
Application of alleged American citizen of the Chinese race for preinvestigation of status, December 16, 1935
National Archives, Records of the Immigration Service


When Anna May Wong traveled overseas, she had to file documents like the one above and submit to interrogations by immigration officials. These burdensome proof-of-citizenship requirements were established in the wake of the discriminatory Chinese exclusion laws, which greatly restricted immigration from China from 1882 until 1943 and made it harder for Chinese American citizens to travel abroad and be treated as equal citizens.


Featured Image:  Anna May Wong's duplicate certificate of identity, 1924. National Archives, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service