Since the mid-1800s, Asian immigrants have been a driving force of economic development in the United States. Many arrived in the country to advance infrastructure, building and connecting America’s west with the established east as railroad workers and miners. Their conditions were brutal, hostile and even fatal – in September 1885, white miners injured or killed dozens of Chinese people in Rock Springs, Wyoming for taking away their jobs. As racial tensions worsened, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited the immigration of any East Asian person. It was not until 1943 that Asian immigrants could begin the process of naturalization.
From the late 1960s, the AAPI community has found their own voice and power in the U.S. – from leading major labor movements to asserting their rights as citizens to crafting a unique voice that connects heritage with today’s pop culture -- the resilience of the AAPI community is inspiring and impactful.
This month, films such as ‘A Tale of Three Chinatowns’ and ‘Chinatown Rising’ capture the vibrant essence and social movements of Chinatowns across America. Similarly, the seven-film series Asian American Stories of Resilience and Beyond by Asian American Documentary Network features resilient, diverse AAPI: The series follows a Filipino American woman on a journey to reconnect with her father after being separated by COVID-19; Black, Indonesian American teens from Minneapolis whose dual identities shape their response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; the response and struggle of Sikh Americans following the 2021 FedEx shooting; and more. And ‘Geographies of Kinship’ spotlights how the small community of global South Korean adoptees remap their roots.
This month, we not only honor the incredible struggles of AAPI, but recognize the strengths and successes amplified by these films. As Asian American and Pacific Islander representation continues to grow in mainstream media and other facets of American culture, AAPI Heritage Month celebrates an impact on society that should always be appreciated. With these films, WORLD Channel amplifies the voices of the community.
The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu | Pacific Heartbeat
May 2 on TV, online & on the PBS app
On Honolulu's famous Waikiki Beach stand four large stones that represent a Hawaiian tradition of healing and gender diversity that is all but unknown to the millions of locals and tourists passing by. According to legend, the stones are a tribute to four mahu, people of dual male and female spirit, who brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii and used their spiritual power to cure disease.
Over the past few years, Asian Americans faced a double pandemic of COVID-19 and anti-Asian racism. Produced in partnership with Asian American Documentary Network and presented in partnership with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), seven shorts showcase a mix of perspectives from emerging to established AAPI filmmakers, from a diverse range of AAPI communities and geographic regions, covering topics that move beyond the pandemic and reflect the complexities of AAPI experiences.
Try Harder! | Independent Lens
May 4 on TV and the PBS app
At Lowell High School, San Francisco’s academic pressure cooker, the kids are stressed out. With a majority Asian American student body, high-achieving seniors share their dreams and anxieties about getting into a top university. But is college worth the grind?
Waterman – Duke: Ambassador of Aloha | American Masters
May 14 on TV and the PBS app
Narrated by Jason Momoa, discover the inspiring story and considerable impact of five-time Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku. He shattered swimming records and globalized surfing while overcoming racism in a lifetime of personal challenges.
May 16 on TV
A raw, inspiring window into 5.4 million children stepping forward as frontline heroes. Caring for family with tough medical conditions, they stay at home doing things often seen only in hospitals. They are cheerleaders, work part-time, go to college and live double lives quietly growing up as America’s next greatest generation.
Geographies of Kinship | America ReFramed
May 19 on TV, online & on the PBS app
In Geographies of Kinship, the complex personal histories of four adult adoptees born in South Korea are weaveed together with the rise of the country’s global adoption program. Raised in foreign families, each adoptee sets out on a journey to reconnect with their roots, mapping the geographies of kinship that bind them to a homeland they never knew.
A Tale of Three Chinatowns | Local, USA
May 23 on TV, online & on the PBS app
Exploring the survival of urban ethnic neighborhoods in three American cities: Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston. Through the voices of residents, community activists, developers and government officials, the film looks at the forces altering each community and the challenges that go with them, including the pressing issue of urban development and gentrification.
Growing Up Asian | Stories from the Stage
Every day, millions of people are creating their own definitions of what it means to be Asian American. Suzanne Lee works with a Chinese parents association to organize during Boston's busing desegregation crisis and gains strength from the women in her community; David Hu travels to China for the first time and tries to connect with his roots; and after being held at gunpoint in her family’s hardware store, Eson Kim learns the definition of love.
Chinatown Rising | America ReFramed
May 26 on TV, online & on the PBS app
Weaving together never-before-seen archival footage and photographs, Chinatown Rising reveals a deeply personal portrait of a San Francisco neighborhood in transition. Chinatown activists of the 1960s reflect on their years as young residents waging battles for bilingual education, tenants’ rights and ethnic studies curriculum that would shape their community and nation.
Plague at the Golden Gate | American Experience
May 28 on TV & the PBS app
The film takes us back to turn-of-the 20th-century San Francisco, when a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague in the city’s Chinatown and the hunt to identify its source led to an all-too-familiar spate of violent anti-Asian sentiment.
Sundays on TV beginning May 1 | Available online & on the PBS app through May 31
Asian Americans is a five-hour film series that delivers a bold, fresh perspective on a history that matters today, more than ever. As America becomes more diverse, and more divided while facing unimaginable challenges, how do we move forward together? Told through intimate personal stories, the series will cast a new lens on U.S. history and the ongoing role that Asian Americans have played.
Curtain Up! | America ReFramed
Available online & on the PBS app through May 10
In New York City's Chinatown, the theater club of PS 124 is staging an adaptation of the film "Frozen”. As the 5th graders gear up and rehearse for the musical production, nervous excitement and flubbed lines brush up against cultural stereotypes, family expectations, and post-graduation uncertainties. Curtain Up! shares a kid’s-eye view of the wonders of discovering art, culture and identity.
Far East Deep South | America ReFramed
Available on PBS Passport
Charles Chiu and his family’s search for their roots takes them on an eye-opening journey through the Mississippi Delta, uncovering otherwise unknown stories and the racially complex history of Chinese immigrants in the segregated South. This Chinese American family’s unforgettable story offers a poignant and important perspective on race relations, immigration and American identity.
First Vote | America ReFramed
Available on PBS Passport
With unparalleled access to a diverse cross section of politically engaged Chinese Americans, First Vote offers a character-driven verité look at Chinese American electoral organizing in North Carolina and Ohio. The film weaves their stories from the presidential election of 2016 to the 2018 midterms, and explores the intersections between immigration, voting rights and racial justice.
High Tide Don’t Hide | Pacific Heartbeat
Available online & on the PBS app
In the race for existence, striking teenagers discover that activism, authority and awareness make for a steep learning curve. Determined to provoke real action, New Zealand teenagers join the global School Strike for Climate. But planning a movement and building momentum are the easy parts as they face political indifference, their own white privilege, and the ongoing struggle to be heard.
Jaddoland | America ReFramed
May 12 on TV | Available on PBS Passport
Nadia Shihab's Jaddoland is an intimate portrait of the work and process of the director’s visual artist mother Lahib Jaddo. The film offers viewers a fresh look at the immigrant story in America. Through an exploration of her mother’s art and connections to her life in Texas, Shihab also drafts a unique picture of how art can help both the creator and the audience make sense of familial and cultural connections, loss, perseverance and life.
James & Isey | Pacific Heartbeat
Available online & on the PBS app
Genuine New Zealand treasures Isey and her son James invite viewers into their lives in the week leading up to Isey's 100th birthday and its shaping up to be quite the party. The episode captures a Northland celebration of life and aroha (love) like no other.
The Last Season | America ReFramed
Available online through May 28
Each September, the town of Chemult, Oregon is flooded with mushroom hunters. Many are immigrants from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand who entered the U.S. as refugees in the 1980s. Here, veterans Kouy Loch and Roger Higgins find more than just the rare matsutake in the woods; they create a familial bond and a means to slowly heal the wounds of war.
Loimata, the Sweetest Tears | Pacific Heartbeat
Available online & on the PBS app
Featuring the redemptive tale of waka builder and captain Lilo Ema Siope’s final years, "Loimata, The Sweetest Tears" is a chronicle of journeys – journeys of migration, spirituality, voyaging, healing and coming home. Confronting intergenerational trauma head on, the Siope family returns to their homeland of Sâmoa.
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