Arts, News

‘Far East Deep South’ Shares Journey Of A Chinese Family Trying To Discover Their Ancestry In Mississippi

"Far East Deep South" airs on the World Channel on May 4.
"Far East Deep South" airs on the World Channel on May 4.
Credit Giant Flashlight Media

Chinese people in Mississippi? We don’t usually associate the two. A new documentary, however, tells the gripping story of Chinese immigrants in the Deep South through one family’s history.

“City Lights” host Lois Reitzes was joined by the filmmakers of “Far East Deep South,Larissa Lam and Baldwin Chiu. The film will premiere on the WORLD Channel documentary series “America ReFramed,” at 8 p.m. May 4.

Interview Highlights

What inspired the creation of the film:

“It wasn’t until the birth of my daughter when I saw how my father would hold her and realized that was the first time I saw in our immediate family a grandchild/grandfather relationship. I really started wondering ‘Hmm, why didn’t I ever have that relationship with my grandfather? Why didn’t I ever know him?’ That really prompted our desire to really find out where our family history and lineage came from,” said Chiu.

How this lineage investigation turned into a film: 

“When we traveled down to Mississippi, I literally thought we would just find two Chinese men buried there — Baldwin’s grandfather and great-grandfather. And we would call it a day, have a nice family vacation and come home. We were really filming because, like any family vacation, you film all those family moments,” said Lam.

She continued, “It wasn’t until we started uncovering the history, and visiting the Chinese Museum in the middle of Mississippi and all these amazing discoveries started happening, that we thought that this was more of a story that needed to be told.”

About the segregation of Chinese immigrants in the South:

“We all learn about the segregation. We all learn about the American South, but nowhere do we learn about the Chinese being impacted by segregation and the Chinese having a presence and contributions in the South,” said Lam.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted Chinese immigration to America. It excluded Chinese women from immigrating into the United States, and it didn’t allow Chinese men to come to the States as laborers.

“Unless they were exempted as merchants, diplomats, scholars or tourists … and it basically didn’t allow Chinese to become citizens. So it was a law that came out of a lot of the workers’ post-Transcontinental Railroad completion saying, ‘We don’t want Chinese workers taking our jobs, so this is our way of preventing them from coming in,'” said Lam.

The film will also be available to stream at worldchannel.org, PBS.org and the PBS app during May for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.