Bigger Than One Family: Film looks at decades of oppression, separation

Bigger Than One Family: Film looks at decades of oppression, separation
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

Baldwin Chiu was used to his father’s vague answers when he questioned him about his heritage. But when Chiu had a daughter of his own, he decided vague answers weren’t enough; he wanted to learn more about his family lineage and how and why his Chinese relatives came to America. He was shocked when the search took him to the Deep South, and what he learned along the way was both educational and entertaining enough for Chiu and his family to turn the journey into a documentary called “Far East Deep South,” available for streaming through the Arkansas PBS website now until June 3.

“We heard that my grandfather and great-grandfather were buried in Mississippi, and my brother thought we should go out there and pay our respects,” says Chiu. “We went out there thinking we’d find two Chinese men buried in Mississippi, and we would throw some flowers on there and pay our respects and go home. What we were not expecting was to learn about the entire community of Chinese people in Mississippi or to find the Delta State University Chinese Heritage Museum. When my wife, Larissa Lam, showed up and looked around at the museum, she said, ‘This can’t be just a family film. There’s so much going on here — we need to make this into a documentary.”

As a Chinese American, Chiu was familiar with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a racist law that suspended Chinese immigration for 10 years. But until his trip to Mississippi to delve deeper into the history of his family, he had no idea of the impact it had on his own family tree.

“What we discovered was that the Chinese Exclusion Act wasn’t simply a law that happened a long time ago and got fixed eventually,” he says. “It was a law that had some serious repercussions. It affected families for a long time — multiple generations — and it still affects families today. My father did not have a father to raise him, and he had no idea it was the Chinese Exclusion Act that separated his family. … So many of us have been driven away, and our families have been divided and separated for so long.”

“Far East Deep South” resonates particularly strongly these days: A report released last year showed that hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 150% in 2020. Chiu believes that bringing to schools documentaries like the one that tells the story of his family would go a long way toward combating racism.

Film looks at decades of oppression, separation

“We could fix essentially all this racism and really bring unity to our country in one generation,” he says. “But it requires our youth to become educated, and it requires our adults to allow our young people to learn about the truth of our country, the good and the bad. … If we tell all our stories, and the stories are not just diverse for the sake of diversity, but the stories are diverse for the sake of authenticity, and honesty and truth, then we can truly understand what got us to where we are today, and then we can finally understand what we need to do in order to fix the future.”


‘Far East Deep South’

WHEN — Streaming through June 3


COST — Free


Categories: Theater