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Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

Streaming Video

3 DVDs, 122 minutes each
Source: PBS Video

What does it mean to become American? In interviews with historians, descendants, and recent immigrants, Bill Moyers explores this question through the experience of the Chinese in America.

Disc 1:
Gold Mountain Dreams
In the 1840s, civil war and famine in southern China drove thousands of young men to seek their fortune in the California Gold Rush. This program traces the Chinese experience in America, from their welcome in San Francisco as “celestial men of commerce,” through the Gold Rush and building of the Transcontinental Railroad, to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banning their entry into the U.S.

Disc 2:
Between Two Worlds
Abetted by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment swept across America. This program examines the exclusion years through the stories of Chinese Americans and their families who were kept apart by both ancient custom and U.S. law. These immigrants were trapped between countries, at home neither in the U.S., nor in China. The law that separated these families also provided relief as Chinese Americans turned to the courts for justice.

Disc 3:
No Turning Back
The immigration laws of 1965 were a turning point for the Chinese in America and overturned the last legal obstacle to the empowerment of Chinese Americans. This program presents intimate portraits of the new Chinese Americans and their struggle, common to so many immigrants, to reconcile the loss of some aspects of their old culture in order to embrace their adopted American one.

View or download the Becoming American study guide

Related lessons:
Becoming American: Exploring Names and Identities
Becoming American: Immigration Experiences
Race, Democracy, and Citizenship: The American Ideal

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