Graveside Chat: West Laurel Hill Blog

Honoring Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Honoring Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a period for the duration of the month of May for recognizing the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we’re recognizing a few of the Asian Americans laid to rest at West Laurel Hill who made achievements through art, history, and culture.

Soh Jaipil or Seo Jae-pil, later known as Dr. Philip Jaisohn (1864-1951) was a reformer, activist and champion of Korean independence. Jaison was born in 1864 at Kanae Village, Bosung county, near the southern tip of South Korea. As one of organizers of the failed Gapsin Coup in 1884, Jaisohn was forced to flee Korea and move to the United States. He was the first Korean to become a naturalized U.S. citizen and in 1892 became the first Korean to receive an American medical degree. When he married Muriel Armstrong (1876-1941) in 1894, it was the first marriage between an American and Korean on record in the United States. In addition to his practice as a medical doctor, Jaisohn spent the rest of his life advocating for Korean independence, including founding The Independent, Korea’s first modern and widely accessible newspaper. When Jaisohn died in 1951 during the Korean War, he was inurned the Sanctuary of Peace at West Laurel Hill Cemetery. However, in 1994, the remains of this Korean national hero returned to his native country for burial. Jaisohn’s family is still inurned in West Laurel Hill’s Chapel of Peace, and a monument to his achievements can be found in Rose Tree Park in Media, PA near his home.

This statue of Philip Jaisohn stands outside the South Korean Embassy in Washington, D.C

Born in China, Zhe-Zhou Jiang (1946-2017) trained in traditional Chinese painting at the Beijing College of Fine Arts before coming to Philadelphia to study at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Jiang was known for his watercolor paintings which synthesized contemporary imagery and traditional techniques. A well-respected teacher, Jiang spent years demonstrating what he knew to the next generation of artists. Jiang is buried in the Southlawn section of West Laurel Hill Cemetery, lot 271.

Susumu Kobayashi (1892-1975) was born in Hirata, Shimaneken, Japan and came to the United States when he was 22 to join Yamato, a Japanese agricultural community near Palm Beach, Florida. In 1922 he returned to Japan to marry Suye Matsumoto (1900-2001). The Kobayashis returned to America and moved to Geneva, Illinois where they worked as gardeners on the “Riverbank” estate of millionaire businessman George Fabyan. The family moved to San Leandro, California in 1939 and remained there until 1942 when, under Executive Order 9066, they were relocated to the Topaz, Utah internment camp for Japanese in America. The Kobayashi family was among the more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry interned during World War II without criminal charges or trial. Susumu and Suye Kobabyashi are buried in the Cameo Gardens section of West Laurel Hill. Their daughter, Sumiko, worked to share the history and culture of Japanese Americans to the American public, donating her papers to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Wedding of Suye and Susumu Kobayashi, July 19, 1922 in Matsue Japan

Born in Osaka, Japan, Yoko Haru Drake (1933-1997) came to the United States in 1964, earning a Master’s in Fine Arts from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Drake was an artist and painter. She also demonstrated and taught origami, the art of Japanese paper folding. She displayed her work throughout the area in local shows and galleries along with selling it in her store, “Paper Menagerie.” Yoko is buried in the Cameo Gardens section of West Laurel Hill Cemetery.