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Ann Arbor 200

Asian American Contributions in Ann Arbor

Compiled by Amy D. Seetoo, Michigan Taiwanese American Organization

In the last 200 years, Asian Americans have thrived in this magnificent and diverse city in academic, art, engineering, and scientific advances and in city landmarks. This list covers only a small sample of their contributions. 

1. Samuel C. C. Ting, born in 1936 in Ann Arbor, received his Ph.D. in physics in 1962 at the University of Michigan. He received the Nobel Prize in 1976, which he shared with Burton Richter, for the discovery of the J/ψ meson nuclear particle.

Newspaper article showing picture of man receiving prize, audience clapping
Published in the Ann Arbor News, December 11, 1976

2. James P. Wong, born in Buffalo, NY, and a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Architecture, designed Lamp Post Plaza on E Stadium Blvd (where Trader Joe’s is located) in 1962. It was Ann Arbor’s second unenclosed shopping mall, after Arborland Center. James P. Wong designed many of Ann Arbor’s landmark buildings, including the St. Francis of Assisi Church in 1969, Westminster Presbyterian Church in 1969, and the Glazier Way United Methodist Church (currently called the Green Wood United Methodist Church) in 1975.

Man seated in a chair in house with Chinese artwork on display
Architect James P. Wong At Home, June 1984

3. In 1969, Joseph T. A. Lee, Canadian Chinese American professor of architecture at the University of Michigan, joined attorney Arthur Carpenter and ten other Ann Arborites to form Arbor-A to revitalize the area around the Farmers Market. Professor Lee was the chief architect and planner, responsible for designing the Farmers Market and turning the vacant warehouse buildings of the Washtenaw Farm Bureau into a well-known Ann Arbor landmark, the Kerrytown Market and Shops.

Head and shoulders photo of Chinese man in business suit
Joseph T. A. Lee - School Board Candidate, April 1967

4. In 1978, Cynthia Yao, who hailed from Kingston, Jamaica, initiated the idea of a hands-on museum and became the first Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum in 1982. She was one of the Inductees of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2005.

Chinese woman stands in front of fire house
Cynthia Yao Presents Plans For A Children's Museum In Old Fire Station, November 1978

5. In 1990, Lucy Alexis Liu, graduated from the University of Michigan, and is now an award winning film and television actress, director, as well as an artist.

Chinese American woman speaks into microphone
Photo by Bethany Egan/USAID

6. In 1992, S. M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center at the University of Michigan was named in honor of Professor Shien-Ming Wu, Anderson Professor of Manufacturing Technology. The Center works with dozens of automotive and industrial manufacturers.

Newspaper article with photo titled 'U-M Mourns Loss of Engineering Professor'
Published in the Ann Arbor News, October 30, 1992

7. In 1993, Michigan Chinese American News (密西根新聞), a Chinese language weekly newspaper in Michigan, began publication in Ann Arbor.

Chinese language newspaper front page
Michigan Chinese American News, August 19 2022

8. In 1993, Dr. Theresa Chang formed Citizens for Quality Care Co. headquartered in Ann for long term care and assisted living services. 

Dozens of Chinese / Taiwanese women standing with celebratory sign
Dr. Shirley Chang Honored By Chinese American Parent Student Council

9. In 1993, Wei and Lisa Bee founded the first Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea coffeehouse in Ann Arbor. More than 30 years later, Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea has around 40 locations across 12 states. 

Asian man and woman pose in brick-walled cafe
Wei and Lisa Bee, Owners of Sweetwaters, April 1993

10. In 1994, the Chinese American Society of Ann Arbor (CASAA) was founded.

Newspaper article with photo titled 'Friendship Is Fostered'
Published in the Ann Arbor News, November 1, 2000

11. In 1995, Jimmy Hsiao, a University of Michigan graduate in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering, founded Logic Solutions to provide a comprehensive range of technology solutions and services to businesses across the U.S. The company now has offices in Ann Arbor, Irvine, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Taipei. 

Chinese man speaking into microphone
Jimmy Hsiao, Founding CEO of Logic Solutions

12. In 2002, Michigan Taiwanese American Organization (MITAI) was founded to promote cultural exchange between residents of Michigan and those of Taiwan.

Taiwanese woman and man stand next to poster display
Michigan Taiwanese American Organization Hosts Event at the Ann Arbor District Library

13. In 2006, Dr. Cheng-Yang Chang, a resident of Ann Arbor, donated $1 million in honor of his wife Shirley to be recognized in the naming of The Shirley Chang Gallery of Chinese Art in the new addition of UMMA (The University of Michigan Museum of Art). Dr. Chang also gifted more than 30 traditional Chinese paintings by his father, noted artist Ku-Nien Chang.

Newspaper article highlighting $1 million gift in the arts
Published in Crain's Detroit Business, July 3, 2006

14. In 2010, the Nam Center for Korean Studies at U-M, the first named Korean studies center in the U.S., was established in honor of Elder Sang-Yong Nam and Mrs. Moon-Sook Nam. Elder Nam, a U-M graduate in 1966, was the founder and CEO of Nam Building Management Co. 

Korean woman cooks over tabletop grill
Moon Nam Grills Traditional Korean Dish, October 1973

15. Since 2013, Grace Meng, a U-M graduate, has been the Congresswoman from New York, being the first Asian American elected to Congress from New York.

Asian woman in business suit in front of US flag
U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng represents New York's Sixth Congressional District

16. In 2022, the Ann Arbor District Library began receiving annual gifts of 16 award-winning art prints for the Lunar New Year from the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, through the introduction of MITAI. These gifts have helped diversify the art appreciation of library patrons.

Art print showing dragon landing among flowers in mountain scene
Dragon Jade's Dance in the Mountains by Ya-lan Yu
Art print showing two tigers, flowers, and butterflies
Lucky Tiger Brings Abundance by Shu-Feng Lin
Art print showing seated rabbit
Jade Rabbit Welcoming the New Year by Chia-I Liao













17. In 2022, Dr. Santa Ono began his five-year term as the 15th president of the University of Michigan and its first Asian American president.

Asian man in business suit with arms crossed
Santa J. Ono, President of the University of Michigan

18. In 2022, Dr. Jiu-Hwa Lo Upshur, a retired Eastern Michigan University professor and resident of Ann Arbor, and her family members, Jiu-Fong Lo Chang and Kuei-sheng Chang, gifted the Lo Chia-Lun Calligraphy Collection of 72 important works of art from six centuries of Chinese history to UMMA. It was the single most valuable gift of art in the University of Michigan’s history.

Chinese calligraphy manuscript
Yang Weizhen (1296– 1370), Two Calligraphy of Poetry (detail), Yuan dynasty

19. In 2024, it was announced that the Song Foundation and Linh and Dug Song donated a total of $300,000 to renovate the only museum dedicated to Washtenaw County’s Black history. Dug Song is the co-founder and general manager of Duo Security, a cybersecurity provider. In 2018, Duo was acquired by Cisco for $2.35 billion, making it the largest exit ever for a Michigan-based software company. Linh Song is the first female Asian American City Council member of Ann Arbor.

Asian American couple smiling together
Philanthropists Dug and Linh Song

20. Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is journalist, poet, and scholar based in Ann Arbor and Hawaii, focusing on issues of race, justice, culture, and Asian America. She was a 2019 Knight Arts Challenge winner receiving $25,000 for her project "Beyond Vincent Chin: Legacies in Action and Art," which addresses a key case in Asian American history and its impacts since his murder in 1982. She is a PBS NewsHour reporter on Michigan.

Asian American woman stands in front of flowers
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


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