Picks and Pans Review: The Chinese Americans
PBS (check local listings)
Show of the week
If you want facts and figures on Chinese immigration to the United States, this program is not for you. The sketchy historical background can be frustrating, as when an interviewee mentions "the exclusion days" without adequate explanation. But while it stints on hard information, The Chinese Americans is rich in observations and anecdotes.
Playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) remembers his childhood search for Chinese role models in the American media. "You didn't want to grow up to be the cook on Bonanza," he says. Connie Chung of ABC News recalls using defensive humor to ward off cracks about slanty eyes and "yellow journalism," though it's clear the gibes still stung. Former California state treasurer Matt Fong tells of culinary culture shock as an Air Force Academy cadet: potatoes, not rice, on the plate.
The subjects shift from religion to cuisine to careers, but the theme of the hour is quiet ethnic pride. As immigrants who looked inescapably "different," the Chinese thrived by keeping tradition and assimilation in balance. Chinese and American. No hyphen, please.
Bottom Line: Low-key but inspiring success story
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