Documentary on Asian Americans Shines a Spotlight on an Undercovered History

Documentary on Asian Americans Shines a Spotlight on an Undercovered History
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States today. And yet, more than a century and a half after the first immigrants from across the Pacific arrived on American soil, understanding of the Asian American experience remains, at best, incomplete.

Asian Americans, a new five-hour documentary broadcast by PBS and WETA debuting this week, aims to tell this story. Asia Society Executive Vice President Tom Nagorski caught up with two of the film’s producer/directors, Grace Lee and Geeta Gandbhir, last week to discuss why the documentary is so necessary.

“There’s a constant struggle with Asian Americans — we go through these traumatic events and try to process them [at the same time],” said Lee. “Storytellers, historians, and people like us making this documentary get to have another chance to understand what this all means.”

The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a surge in racist attacks against people of Asian descent, and deteriorating relations between China and the United States has sparked fear that anti-Asian bigotry will grow worse. But Lee expressed some reasons for optimism.

“I grew up in the Midwest in the 1980s,” she said. “No one knew what Korea or kimchi was. And now there’s K-pop, Parasite, and Korean baseball.”

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