Series: Asian Americans
Created by: PBS
Where to Watch: PBS
Wanna Skip? Pick a Movie from APAHM Project 2020
Why it Made the List:
Released in May 2020 for APAHM, PBS's 5 part docuseries details Asian American history that we didn't learn in school.
As I was scrolling through my Facebook in pandemic 2020, I came across a very colorful ad that caught my attention. In these polygonal spaces, I saw faces that looked like mine and realized it was a new PBS documentary on Asian American history. Eager to watch, I recorded the 5 episodes on my DVR and watched the series with my family.
Since then, our world has seen a lot of hurt and injustice. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. Vicha Ratanapakdee, Amarjeet Johal, Jaswinder Singh, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels. These and many other lives lost as a result of prejudice, xenophobia, discrimination, scapegoating, hate.
As the world continued to fight against racism, I began to notice, within and outside my own circle, that the tension between the Black and Asian community was growing. Although we did see Asians show up for protests for Black lives and police brutality and Black communities showing up for Stop Asian Hate, there was still some animosity. Media, of course, only fueled the fire. It was moments like this that I would refer family and friends to this docuseries that, more than once, touched on Black/Asian/Latinx solidarity throughout history. How in the 1960s, Asian people showed up for the Civil Rights Movement. Later, they would use those peaceful protests as a blueprint to hold their own organized and peaceful movements. Vincent Chin, Rodney King, Latasha Harlins. How these senseless murders divided and brought groups together across the country.
This docuseries taught me more about Asian American history than any class in my entire school career. The only history I knew from school was that the Chinese build the Transcontinental railroad, that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and that we were associated with the Gold Rush. I never learned about The Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese Internment camps until my 20s. I just learned about the Page Act of 1875 this past week. How was it that I knew so little about our history? In the documentary, they show a program called ROOTS - Restoring Our Original True Selves. Their motto: "If you know your history, you know yourself."
My favorite part of the documentary was possibly the part that featured Toy Len Goon, America's Mother of 1952 (Episode 3, "Good Americans"). I am sure Goon was a fantastic mother, but she was purposely used to show that if Asians were able to overcome adversity and be successful, then why couldn't Black or Latinx people do this too? It created a harmful stereotype known as the Model Minority Monolith. That Asian people could be seen as one way, as a model citizen who, despite challenges, achieved the American Dream. And while some do, my family included, work hard to get the American Dream, it is not the case for all. It sounds like an awfully positive stereotype: to be smart, or successful, or hard-working. But it is still damaging and continues to put us in a box. It was, for me, an eye opener into how White America deliberately pit minority groups against one another.
The series is not all academia-type history. It touches on success and wins and community and loss and pain. Collectively, it is the life that Asian Americans lived. Together it is not just our history, but America's history.
I highly recommend this series over and over again. I will soon be buying the DVD so that I can let people borrow it once PBS stops streaming it for free. It is such a well-done series that gives just a glimpse of the Asian American experience. I hope that classrooms across the country are able to integrate Asian American history into their curriculum for years to come.
Stop Hate and Donate:
**A Reminder! I will be matching donations from this blog post based upon the number of likes it gets! Share this post and tell your friends to like this post!**
Today’s donation link is for Liu Yong Fa, an Uber driver and single father of a 3 year old son. Fa, along with Yong Zheng (Day 5's donation), helped break up a gambling den robbery in New York. Fa was in his car when he saw the victim getting beaten and rushed to help. In the process, Fa was stabbed four times including his chest, shoulder, and his lung. As of March 3rd, he was released from the hospital. He said he would "of course" help again, knowing that he helped save a life.
If You Liked This, You Might Like:
*Note: I have not seen either of these films but they are on my list of films to watch*
The Chinese Exclusion Act on PBS
Vincent Who? on YouTube (includes screening and discussion)