LOS ANGELES • Last year, Awkwafina was at the Golden Globes ceremony as part of the cast of the groundbreaking movie Crazy Rich Asians that was up for a Best Movie - Musical or Comedy prize.
On Sunday, the actress attended the event again, this time as a nominee in the Best Actress - Musical or Comedy race.
She triumphed, becoming the first Asian-American woman to win a Globe in a lead actress film category, for her role in The Farewell.
Awkwafina, 31, plays a Chinese-American immigrant struggling with her cultural identity while trying to shield her grandmother from a grim health diagnosis.
"If I fall upon hard times, we can sell this," Awkwafina said in her acceptance speech, hoisting her trophy in the air. "So that's good."
Her win softened the fact that it was a dry year at the Globes for films directed by or about women, with The Farewell director Lulu Wang - and all other women - being left out of the directing category, reported The New York Times.
"You gave me this chance, the chance of a lifetime, and you taught me so much," Awkwafina said to Wang in her speech. "And just filming this story, being with you, was incredible."
Backstage, Awkwafina, who was born in New York and whose real name is Nora Lum, said of the character she played in The Farewell: "I relate to her mentality a lot.
"A lot of children of immigrants in this country do. We are raised to feel like Americans, and when we go back, we're told we don't belong there. It's a constant feeling of being lost in translation, and that's something that definitely resonated with me."
Asked about the historical significance of her Globes victory, she added: "I just heard that fact and it was pretty mind-blowing.
"It feels incredible, but I think there's also this other feeling that you want there to be more. I hope this is just the beginning."
She fended off Ana de Armas (Knives Out), Cate Blanchett (Where'd You Go, Bernadette), Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart) and Emma Thompson (Late Night) to bag the award.
The triumph is part of a breakout two-year run for the actress, who marked a breakthrough year in 2018 with appearances in Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean's 8.
She may now get an Academy Award nomination, though best actress winners in the Globes' comedy category do not always see Oscar nods.
But her Globe win makes up for the disappointment last year, when her Crazy Rich Asians co-star Constance Wu was also nominated for Best Actress in a Movie - Comedy or Musical. Olivia Colman (The Favourite) was the victor.
But Sandra Oh bagged the Globe for Best Actress in a TV drama last year for her work in Killing Eve, making her the first actor of Asian descent to win multiple Globes.
She previously triumphed in 2006 in the TV supporting actress category for her work in Grey's Anatomy.
Awkwafina on Sunday paid tribute to her family for standing by her choice to work in an industry that has been slow to be inclusive and pro-equality.
"I'd like to dedicate this to my dad, Wally. I told you I'd get a job, dad.
"To my grandma, my best friend, the woman who raised me. And to my mother Tia, who I always hope is watching from somewhere above, and I hope that she's watching now."
Her mother died when Awkwafina was four years old.
Awkwafina, who released a hip-hop album in 2014, currently stars in hit movie Jumanji: The Next Level.
She is set to premiere her autobiographical comedy series Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens this month.