Asian Reporter Info
The Asian Reporter's
GROUNDBREAKING PORTLAND PILOT. Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese-American woman to fly for the U.S. military during World War II. In Julie Leung’s book, The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee, readers both young and old meet Hazel and learn how tough and determined she was throughout her life.
From The Asian Reporter, V31, #5 (May 3, 2021), page 12.
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee tells the
inspiring story of a groundbreaking Portland native
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee
By Julie Leung
Illustrations by Julie Kwon
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021
Hardcover, 48 pages, $18.99
By Jody Lim
The Asian Reporter
Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese-American woman to fly for the U.S. military during World War II. In Julie Leung’s book, The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee, with illustrations by Julie Kwon, readers both young and old meet Hazel and learn how tough and determined she was throughout her life.
"Hazel Ying Lee was born fearless. She was not afraid of wind or water, as the old Cantonese saying goes." So begins this engaging book, which tells the story of a groundbreaker.
When Hazel was young, she would race her brothers, always pushing herself to be the best she could be. When she became tired, she would catch her breath while sitting on the grass and looking at the sky. Occasionally on sunny days, a silver plane would "streak across the clouds. She wondered what it might be like to move so fast her feet couldn’t touch the ground."
Despite pushback from her family, and the fact that in 1932, only one percent of pilots were women, Hazel declared, "I will be a pilot."
After Hazel experienced flying for the first time, she never looked back. She worked as an elevator operator at a department store in order to pay for flying lessons. In less than a year, she earned her flying license. But what could she do with a flying license?
"Americans didn’t want to hire the Chinese," author Leung writes. "And who would hire a Chinese girl pilot?"
When the U.S. entered World War II, all available male pilots were called to fly overseas and Hazel jumped on the opportunity immediately, becoming the U.S. military’s first Chinese-American pilot flying for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program.
The women in the WASP program were not allowed to fight on the frontlines, but their work was still quite dangerous, as she and her fellow pilots tested new planes as they came off the assembly line to find manufacturing defects.
Throughout her life, Hazel was aware of and had to deal with discrimination. While flying, though, "No one could see her eyes, hair, or skin color … Up here, people were just tiny specks against a vast land."
To learn more about the life of Hazel Ying Lee, find a copy of Julie Leung’s wonderful book. The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee is aimed at children between four and eight years old, but it would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a true story about a woman with grit and perseverance who followed her dream.