This is the second part of my list of best films, videos, and documentaries that focus on Asian Americans and are great choices for showing in introductory Asian American Studies classes (read Part 1 here). The following list is organized by topic and corresponds to the chronological order in which I discuss each topic in my “Asian American Experience” course. For each topic, I highlight the documentary that I tend to show the most often, followed by other videos that I’ve shown and consider to be good choices for that topic as well.

Discrimination, Inequality, & Racism

As the name implies, this section focuses on the historical/contemporary examples and individual/institutional ways in which Asian Americans have been targets of racial discrimination, ranging from the Foreign Miner’s Tax, to the Chinese Exclusion Tax, the Japanese American imprisonment, and Vincent Chin’s murder, to name just a few.

  • A Dream in Doubt: This video chronicles the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian American Sikh gas station owner in Phoenix who was shot to death by Frank Roque in the first hate crime murder committed after the 9/11 attacks. It’s a moving look at both the individual costs of hatred, along with how the criminal justice system responds to such a crime in an emotional time for the nation.
  • Lest We Forget: Another excellent video that connects the imprisonment of Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attack with the incarceration and racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11.
  • Who Killed Vincent Chin
  • Vincent Who?
  • Children of the Camps
  • American Sons
  • Sa-I-Gu
  • Wet Sand

Interracial Relationships and Dynamics

In this section, I focus on the issue of interracial dating and marriage, a hot-button topic for many Asian Americans. I explore the individual, family, community, and institutional factors that influence the choice of who a person dates or marries, with a particular focus on the issue from the point of view of Asian American males.

Faith, Spirituality, and Religion

This section explores roles that faith, spirituality, and religion can play in the lives of Asian Americans, ranging from providing emotional stability, practical information and resource, and providing a bridge to the rest of American society.

  • “Muslim” episode of the reality TV show 30 Days (Season 1): Created by Morgan Spulock (the guy who made Supersize Me in which he only ate McDonalds fast food for 30 days), this particular episode involves a practicing Christian living with a Muslim American family for 30 days as he tries to find his own truth about what Islam is all about.
  • American Made: Not a documentary but rather, a short drama about a Indian American family and how temporarily getting stranded in the dessert leads to an intergenerational understanding of what it means to be a Sikh in American society.
  • The Split Horn
  • Blue Collar and Buddha
  • Muslims in America

Sexuality and Creative Expression

This section highlights two sets of issues that have been marginalized or taboo in the Asian American community for too long — sexuality/sexual orientation and creative/artistic expression. I try to emphasize that in addition to achieving “material” goals related to education, jobs, and income, Asian Americans also need to recognize the value of other forms of living and personal expression that connect the individual with the community.

Social Movements & Collective Action

While it’s important to recognize how Asian Americans have been targeted for discrimination, it’s just as important to understand that through the years, Asian Americans have not just been passive victims. Instead, in this section, I describe how there is a long and proud history of activism and collective action within the Asian American community and how we have fought back to assert our rights as true Americans.

New Paradigms and Emerging Issues

In this final section of my “Asian American Experience” course, I reflect back on where Asian Americans have been and just as important, take a look at where Asian Americans, American society, and the world in general is going as we move forward into the 21st century and in particular, as we become more culturally diverse, globalized, and transnational.

As the new academic year starts for many colleges around the country, like many professors, I am busy preparing to teach my courses. In my case, I usually teach two courses in the fall semester: “The Asian American Experience” (a ‘conventional’ classroom course with 40 students) and “Bridging Asia and Asian America” (a once-a-week, two-hour colloquium with 30 students, taught in the lounge of one of the residence halls). While these two courses are distinct, obviously there is a lot of overlap in terms of examining the histories and experiences of Asian Americans and their connections back to Asia.

With that in mind, I would like to share my list of films, videos, and documentaries that I think are good choices for showing in introductory Asian American Studies classes (the videos are most suited for college and advanced high school courses). As the study of Asian Americans continues to grow, hopefully instructors of these kind of courses and others interested in Asian Americans in general will find this list useful.

The following list is organized by topic and corresponds to the chronological order in which I discuss each topic in my “Asian American Experience” course. For each topic, I highlight the documentary that I tend to show the most often, followed by other videos that I’ve shown and consider to be good choices for that topic as well.

Basic Concepts: The Racialized Landscape

In this first section of the course, I lay out the sociological framework and institutional nature of the U.S.’s racial/ethnic landscape into which Asian Americans fit. I focus on how, contrary to historical and contemporary ideals of being “colorblind,” American society has been and continues to be highly racialized and how social institutions reinforce and perpetuate racial distinctions.

  • The Color of Fear: Made in 1992, this video is “just” a group of men from various racial backgrounds sitting around talking about race, but their words sharply illustrate many of the basic and also subtle ways in which racialization gets played out on the individual level and ultimately highlights the failures of trying to be colorblind.
  • Race: Power of an Illusion
  • Race, the World’s Most Dangerous Myth
  • Understanding Race

Immigration and Settlement

In this section, I describe the history of Asian immigration to the U.S., how the 1965 Immigration Act has impacted the current demographics of the Asian American population, and the dynamics of Asian American ethnic communities, from the first urban Chinatowns to emerging suburban enclaves like Little Saigon.

Assimilation and Ethnic Identity

This section explores the multidimensional and multi-level process of assimilation and ethnic identity formation. I discuss how these ideas involve more than just acculturation, how ideas of what it means to be an American have evolved through the years, and how these dynamics play out among adopted and mixed-race Asian Americans.

Women, Gender, and Family

Emphasizing the histories, experiences, challenges, and contributions of Asian American women, I highlight their paths of immigration into American society and the contemporary and often contradictory pressures they face, from familial expectations, to academic success, to dealing with exoticization and “yellow fever.”

  • Never Perfect: This video portrait follows a young Vietnamese American woman and her decision to have eyelid surgery. In between, it highlights the historical and contemporary pressures on how Asian American women are expected to look and behave.
  • Slaying the Dragon
  • Quiet Passages
  • Good for Her
  • Miss India Georgia
  • Knowing Her Place
  • A Life Without Fear

The Model Minority Image

This section examines the origins of Asian Americans portrayed as the “model minority” and in what ways a seemingly “positive” stereotype is true and beneficial to Asian Americans, and how it also distorts the reality of life for many of us as it overgeneralizes and carelessly lumps all Asian Americans together.

Work and Employment

How do Asian Americans differ in terms in terms of their occupational and employment success? I analyze two different aspects of that question in this section — glass ceiling barriers that many Asian Americans still confront in the workplace and secondly, how many choose to bypass those hurdles altogether by owning their own small business.

Part 2 of my list of best documentaries about Asian Americans will focus on videos relating to discrimination & racism, interracial relationships, faith, spirituality, & religion, sexuality & creative expression, social movements & collective action, and emerging issues in the 21st century.

As we conclude May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, below is the transcript from a webchat that I recently did through the U.S. State Department with participants connected with U.S. embassies in various Asian countries. Overall, I think the webchat turned out well and I was happy to be a part of it.

At the same time, I noticed that many of the participants (presumably both U.S.- and foreign-based) have the same erroneous assumptions that I’ve discussed numerous times in this blog — that being “Asian” is the same as being “Asian American.” If anything, I hope that my answers helped to clarify both the similarities and differences between these two sets of experiences and issues.

  • What is Asian Pacific American heritage?

    Asian Pacific American heritage includes the history, experiences, and contributions of Americans of Asian descent. These contributions can be cultural, economic, and political.

  • What are your specialties, what is your site about, and how can we participate on your website?

    I mainly study the social and demographic characteristics of Asian Americans and different forms of assimilation and integration that they undergo, such as interracial and interethnic marriage, owning their own small business, living in an ethnic community, etc. My site discusses these and other political, economic, and cultural issues and news events related to Asian Americans. There is a comment section at the bottom of each of the articles an blog posts on my site where readers can share their reactions and opinions with each other. You can also contact me directly through a message form on my site as well.

  • I’m from Cambodia. What can I help contribute to the APA heritage?

    Globalization and demographic changes have resulted in more connections between Asian countries and the U.S. so Asian Americans have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront on such changes for the benefit of everyone involved. Many Asian citizens already have connections to friends and relatives in the U.S. and can serve as a valuable part of this emerging network.

  • Have you studied in a foreign country and if so, what did you think?

    Unfortunately I’ve never studied abroad, which is something that I regret not doing while in college.

  • Do you have any activities relating to Viet Nam and China around Hoang Sa Island?

    I’m sorry but I don’t have any activities that relate directly to that region. My expertise is in Asian American issues, rather than Asian issues. In fact, I should take this opportunity to make a small correction in Jennryn’s introduction of me — I’m a professor of Asian American Studies, not Asian Studies.

  • Could you give some reflections about the relationship between Asia and the U.S?

    It’s certainly a very complicated issue and one that contains many contradictions. For example, the U.S. loves the cheap labor and natural resources that Asia offers but is suspicious of the power that Asian countries represent. It’s a similar situation with Asian Americans — the rest of America loves the cultural contributions that Asian Americans have added to American society like Chinese restaurants, but is wary that Asian Americans frequently are more educated and make more money than the rest of the U.S.

  • A coworker of mine would like to ask C.N. Le about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She says this year, it will feature Asian Americans (and Mexico). Dates are June 24-28 and July 1-5.

    From what I know if it, I think it’s a good idea to include other racial/ethnic groups in these kinds of festivals. We all live in the same society and have to interact with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, so it makes sense to get to know our neighbors more and to celebrate the many similarities and connections that we share together.

  • How can Asian culture spread in America?

    In fact, many aspects of Asian culture has been incorporated into the American mainstream. This includes media and pop culture examples like anime, manga, martial arts movies, etc. Also includes food, some forms of fashion and other kinds of trends. The key component of this infusion of Asian culture into America is that hopefully Americans will understand and appreciate the history of the culture behind the trend, and not just see it as another commodity or accessory.

  • I want to study out side of my country but am poor in English, so what can I do?

    Well I’m not an expert on study abroad advising but I presume that your school or college offers English classes for you to improve your English skills so that you can one day feel comfortable in studying in the U.S.

  • What kind of stereotypes do you address in your website?

    There have been two main stereotypes that Asian Americans have encountered through the years. First is that all Asian Americans are foreigners — this is the idea that we’re outsiders and not ”real” Americans, even though many Asian Americans have been in the U.S. for several generations and in terms of their values, behaviors, and loyalty, are just as American as anybody else. Second is the stereotype that all Asian Americans are the same — that there are no differences between ethnic groups — that being Chinese American is the same as Japanese American etc.

  • People say that America is a melting-pot, what do you think about this?

    There are some aspects of that melting pot image that is true. As I mentioned, different aspects of Asian culture have been incorporated into the American mainstream. Also, interracial marriage between different racial groups through the years have resulted in the emergence of a growing mixed race/multiracial population. On the other hand, in terms of political power the U.S. is still a very segregated society unfortunately.

  • What are main problems of population growth?

    I’m not sure the main problem is population growth per se but rather the economic opportunities that are associated with growing populations. If a society has the proper resources where growing populations can be adequately cared for, educated, and employed, then the problems normally associated with population growth are less of a concern.

  • I don’t understand what you mean when you mention that Asian Americans are not real Americans and there are no differences between ethnic groups. Can you explain more?

    I will use the example of Vincent Chin — he was a Chinese American living in Detroit in 1982 who was beaten to death by two White men who mistook him for being Japanese and blamed him for them losing their jobs as autoworkers. In this example, we see that the two White men did not differentiate between being Chinese or Japanese — that’s the stereotype that all Asians are the same. Second, they assumed that because of his Asian ancestry that he was not a real American and in fact, accused him of being an enemy of the U.S. by taking over their jobs — this is the stereotype that all Asians are foreginers and not real Americans.

  • Can you give us an example of some of the interesting census statistics you deal with related to diversity?

    Yes, Census statistics paint a very interesting picture — Asian Americans are currently about 5% of the total US population but will increase to about 10% in a few decades. The Latino population has increased significantly as well — from about 15% now to about 25% in a few decades. In fact, around the year 2045, Whites will no longer comprise a majority of the population — they’ll still be the largest racial group by far, but non-Whites will eventually make up more than 50% of the US population.

  • America is a new continent, what has America created as their own heritage?

    America’s heritage is that it offers some of the best opportunities in the world for people to improve their lives. That is why billions of people around the world want to come to the U.S. and in fact, feel compelled to come here without authorization. The US is the first choice of destination for many people around the world because of all the opportunities it offers. But that is also why it is so frustrating when people come here and run into different barriers on their way to accessing those opportunities. Hopefully the US can remember and emphasize its role as the land of opportunity as we move forward in the 21st century.

  • Thanks for the opportunity to share my work. I enjoyed answering people’s questions and hope that we all continue these kinds of discussions in other parts of our work and lives.

Here are some more links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents:

  • Campaign Site of Sue Chan, who is running for Fremont City Council (CA). Her website is www.suechanforfremont.com and her campaign features over 100 video endorsements of every day Fremont community members showing their support for Sue.
  • Concert by Far*East Movement. Because there are so few venues for APAs to perform, FM is creating that space by teaming up with Wong Fu and a bunch of other artists for this concert in September. Site is www.internationalsecretagents.com.
  • Blog Action Day 2008. One of the fundamental principles of blogging is to participate in a social community with others. With that in mind, I would like to encourage those of you who also blog to join me and participate in Blog Action Day 2008.

    Basically, it’s a collective effort by the blogging community (also known as the blogosphere) to get bring attention to an important social issue by having as many people as possible blog about it in a single day. Last year, the issue was the environment. This year’s issue is poverty and the day of action is Wed. October 15.

    Poverty is an issue that affects and cuts across all nations, all racial/ethnic groups, genders, and political ideologies. I hope you’ll join me in participating in Blog Action Day 2008 by registering your blog at their site.

Here are some more links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents:

  • Ted Koppel’s Series on China Entitled “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” on the Discovery Channel (July 9-14 at 10pm ET/PT)
    http://www.youtube.com/user/DiscoveryChannel12
  • Vietnamese Workers Abroad: A Rights Watch
    http://vietnameseworkersabroad.wordpress.com/
  • Focus Group Study on Asian and Latino Americans in Massachusetts
    UMass Boston’s Institute for Asian American Studies is looking for potential participants in a focus group that will be looking at factors that influence career choices for Asian Americans. It’s specifically focused on 1.5 – 2nd generation Asian American and Latino graduate students in Massachusetts.

    The pilot study involves filling out a brief questionnaire and a two-hour focus group in the Boston area. Participants will receive a stipend of $50. The time table for this focus group is some time in August. Most likely the exact date and time will be determined based on the most number of participants who are available.

    I was hoping you all might happen to know particular graduate students who would be interested in participating. Also maybe you could forward this information along to any graduate student listservs you are on. For all further inquiries regarding participation in the study, you can have those who are interested contact us at: iaasfocusgroup@gmail.com.

    Sincerely,
    Nate

  • Announcement about Asian American Art Project
    Hello, my name is Mykim Dang and I am a film and visual arts student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. I am developing a project for my Senior Honors Thesis and am contacting you in an effort to locate project participants.

    As a first generation Vietnamese-American citizen and practicing visual artist, I am working with issues of identity and identity formation, particularly within the postcolonial and postmodern discourse. I would like to engage with other Vietnamese-Americans across the country to gain a deeper understanding of our collective identity in the modern world. I feel that this is a unique way for Vietnamese Americans to connect with one another.

    The main objectives of this process are to better understand the contemporary Vietnamese-American identity, to explore the relationship between artist and viewer, and to recoup art as a reflection of the human spirit. It will provide a necessary outlet and voice for those involved and will prove to be an equally exciting and enlightening opportunity for all those who participate.

    My thesis project is a mixed-media installation comprised of three parts: a text-based component, a hand-drawn component and a photographic component.

    I am asking anyone who wishes to participate to send me a written description of him or herself and a photograph that they feel best represents him or herself. Based only on the written description, I will create a hand-drawn portrait of each subjects. The text, portrait and photo will be displayed side-by-side, reflecting and refracting one another through visual and verbal associations.

    If you have any further questions or would like to be involved in this project please feel free to contact me. I can provide a detailed project description, a step-by-step instruction guide for participants, and a release form designating voluntary participation in this project. I look forward to hearing from you, thank you so much for your time.

    Sincerely,
    Mykim Dang
    mkdang@gmail.com