(KTSF by Susannah Lee)
The short documentary “The Chinese Gardens” explores the lost Chinese community in Port Townsend, Washington, and shows similarities between racism in the 19th century Pacific Northwest and today.
“It’s important to think about the struggle the Chinese Americans have had, to understand that it’s not always easy and that we are not the model minority, that we’ve always had to fight back against racism,” says producer and director Valerie Soe about the message she wants to bring out in the documentary.
Port Townsend, Washington used to be one of the destinations of Chinese immigrants coming to the States in the late 19th century. Chinese made up a quarter of the population at one point; but now, no trace of that history can be found.
“Chinatown burned down, not necessarily intentionally burned down, but there was fire in the whole downtown area and some people say firemen only put out fire in white establishments, ” Soe cites an example of racism against Chinese immigrants from her research.
Soe, Assisant Professor of Asian American Studies at the San Francisco State University, says similar anti-immigrant rhetoric still exists in the United States.
“Now it’s the Latino immigrants, the same kind of phrases and terms, ‘They are taking our jobs’, ‘They are invading us’, ‘They are babarians’, ‘We should close the borders to them’.”
In the documentary, Soe also talks about how the Chinese immigrants fought back and got around the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, “They would pretend to be someone who had been here before, say, Mr. Wong had stayed a little bit and moved to San Francisco, another guy would come in and pretend to be Mr. Wong, and another would come in to pretend and so on.”
“The Chinese Gardens” will premiere at San Francisco State University tomorrow, followed by several screenings in 5 cities in April and May, including the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
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