Ancestors in the Americas: Chinese in the Frontier West

The relationships between 19th century Chinese immigrants and the people and issues they encountered in America.

Premiere Date
March 30, 2001
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Series and Special Projects

Loni Ding

Loni Ding's career has been as a pioneering filmmaker, media policy advocate, and university teacher. With almost 30 years as an independent filmmaker and producer, her work has been broadcast on PBS in 14 national programs, and played to audiences on four continents. Her works include: 600 Millennia: China’s History Unearthed, a prime-time special on Show more the 1975 international tour of an archaeological collection from the People's Republic of China; Bean Sprouts, a five-part children's series on multicultural identity; Willie Lobo: Manchild, a musical drama on the ghetto homecoming of a black Vietnam veteran much changed by the war; and two films — Nisei Soldier and The Color of Honor— on the political and moral dilemmas faced by Japanese American soldiers serving in World War II. Nisei Soldier and The Color of Honor were shown to the U.S. Congress as part of their legislative hearings in 1987 and 1988 on Japanese American Redress and Reparations. Ding’s awards include several Emmy Awards, a Rockefeller Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, a Director's Fellowship from the American Film Institute, and the Steven Tatsukawa Memorial Fund, honoring her works devoted to Asian Pacific Americans. Ding currently teaches in the Asian American and ethnic studies department of the University of California, Berkeley and has been a distinguished visiting professor at other universities. Ding was most recently appointed to serve on a Distinguished Blue Ribbon Commission to advise the Smithsonian Institution on its review and overhauling of themes and methods of presentation in the 21st century, focused on "What Is An American?" Show less

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The Film

Ancestors in the Americas: Chinese in the Frontier West tells the history of early Asian immigrants from 1700 to 1900. Creating first-person voices through a docu-memoir approach, Ancestors brings to life an unexplored past. Episode 1 traces the global forces that brought the first Asians — Filipinos, Chinese, and Asian Indians — to the Americas and the Caribbean, and looks at their lives as sailors, coolies, and settlers. Episode 2 portrays the large-scale immigration of Chinese during the Gold Rush, their role in developing the American West, and their landmark legal battles to overcome discrimination.