The CAAM co-produced PBS documentary series Asian Americans is one of the first winners announced by the 2021 Peabody Awards, one of most prestigious honors in broadcast journalism.
“Being selected for a Peabody Award is a tremendous honor for CAAM and an acknowledgement of our four decades of work to bring Asian American stories to the broadest possible audience,” says CAAM Director of Programs Donald Young, who is also one of the executive producers of Asian Americans. “Respected for its integrity and revered for its standards of excellence, the Peabody Awards elevate stories that defend the public interest, encourage empathy with others, and teach us to expand our understanding of the world around us–all goals that we here at CAAM value.”
The expansive five-part series chronicles over 250 years of Asian American experiences, which are deeply intertwined with United States history at large. “History and solidarity were always central concepts of the Asian Americans. We wanted to tell our own story within the context of race and justice in the U.S. Not the story of the Model Minority or the Perpetual Foreigner,” says series producer Renee Tajima-Peña. The five-hour documentary includes the role of Asian Americans who did the most dangerous work of tunneling through the Sierras to build the Transcontinental Railroad, petitioned the Supreme Court to grant birthright citizenship, and challenged racial school segregation. And this history continued through the 20th century and into the 21st century. “Asian Americans continued to fight for justice in the courts, at the ballot box, in the streets, the fields, on campuses and in the culture. We’re fighting today. That’s the story we wanted to tell.”
Asian Americans is the culmination of decades of efforts, dating back to the 1980s, including CAAM founder Loni Ding’s ground-breaking documentary Ancestors in the Americas. It should be noted that the people behind the production have deep understanding of this community and reflect its various histories.
“One thing that’s really important about the team that came together to make Asian Americans is that everyone has a long track record of being invested in the Asian American story. And we could locate our own family stories in the series. We figured out that Don’s family has been here the longest, back to the early Chinese migration in the 1800s,” says Tajima-Peña. “My grandparents came in the early 1900s—sugar cane workers, picture brides, all of whom had no pathway to citizenship for 50 years in America. Jean Tsien, Grace Lee and Geeta Gandbhir could trace their families’ arrivals to the 1965 immigration reforms. S. Leo Chiang was a parachute kid. Duc Nguyen, one of our archivists, arrived as a refugee from Vietnam.”
Asian Americans is a production of WETA Washington, DC and the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) for PBS, in association with ITVS, Flash Cuts and Tajima-Peña Productions. The series executive producers are Jeff Bieber for WETA; Stephen Gong and Donald Young for CAAM; Sally Jo Fifer for ITVS; and Jean Tsien. The series producer is Renee Tajima-Peña. The producer for Flash Cuts is Eurie Chung. The episode producers are S. Leo Chiang, Geeta Gandbhir and Grace Lee. Narrators are Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita.
Watch Sandra Oh present the Peabody Documentary Award to “Asian Americans”
The five-part Asian Americans series was one of two documentaries honored by the 2021 Peabody Awards. The other was Time, an Amazon Studios production chronicling the two decades-long story of matriarch Fox Rich, as she strives to raise her six sons and fights for her husband’s release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
For over 70 years, the Peabody Awards have been one of the most prestigious honors in broadcast journalism. Visit PeabodyAwards.com to learn more.