This couldn’t come at a more important time in our country… because it tells a story, it tells our story. It shows what was done to our people, but it is also relevant to our present moment, and what is going on today, with anti-immigration laws and prejudices and what’s going on with the Muslim ban. They all have their roots, legally and politically in Chinese exclusion.”- Historian Mae Ngai at THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT screening.
ABOUT THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT DOCUMENTARY
CAAM is one of the co-producers of and is leading the educational outreach for the new PBS documentary film THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT by award-winning documentary filmmakers Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu of Steeplechase Films. This film sheds a light on the important connections between the Chinese Exclusion Act and the history of American civil liberties, immigration, and culture. By examining the socio-economic and geo-political forces that led to the Act, the film will uncover its unmistakable and wide-ranging consequences on national attitudes towards race, culture, politics, and society. At its core, this is a film about American identity, tracing the arc of what has defined being American from the time the United States was a fledgling republic through its astronomical rise as a world superpower.
THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT will have its broadcast premiere on the acclaimed PBS series American Experience. This film documents in fascinating detail the events leading to, causes of, consequences, and continuing impact of the only federal legislation in United States history ever to single out and name a specific race and nationality for exclusion from immigration and citizenship.
The film includes powerful and illuminating on-camera testimony from historians Erika Lee (University of Minnesota), Mary Ting Yi Lui (Yale University), Mae Ngai (Columbia University), Jean Pfaelzer (University of Delaware), Kevin Starr (USC-Dornsife), Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen (Founding Director, A/P/A Institute at NYU), Ling-Chi Wang (UC Berkeley), K. Scott Wong (Williams College), Renqiu Yu (SUNY-Purchase), along with Phillip Choy (architect, historian and archivist), Michael C. Lin (Chairman, 1882 Project), David Lei (cultural advocate), and Martin Gold (attorney and author).
“What made the Chinese survive the most difficult conditions in this country is mainly their identification with American founding principles, and also their faith in themselves, and they refused to be excluded.” -Renqui Yu (Professor of History, SUNY-Purchase)
The film guides viewers through the hardships and racial animosities that Chinese Americans faced throughout the duration of the law, including educational segregation, forced registration, and lynchings. THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT also reveals a forgotten history of Chinese American resilience and resistance to the 15 laws enacted by the federal government, as well as those passed at the state and local levels. By challenging the constitutionality of these laws and the affronts to their civil rights through community organizing, civil disobedience, and the courts system, Chinese Americans brought 10,000 cases to federal courts and set a number of legal precedents that remain intact today. Through the lens of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a wider, deeply American story comes to life, one that embodies the issues of globalization, immigration, labor, and civil rights that continue to dominate headlines today.