[Alicia Yu was selected as the winner of 2016 Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) Boston Essay Contest. The award ceremony was recently held at CACA Boston’s annual meeting in Boston Chinatown. The essay was written after watching the documentary of Honor and Duty: Mississippi Delta Chinese.]
Esther Lee (2nd from right), president of CACA Boston, hands the award check to Alicia Yu.
The Mississippian Delta Film Essay
By Alicia Yu
I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to see such a stunning film by Samantha Cheung. The movie was very empowering in many ways and impacted me on many different levels. I have certainly learned a lot and broaden my perspective on the Chinese culture and its history.
Starting with Part 1, the Chinese started to immigrate to the United States because of the gold rush and called America the “Golden Mountain”. Many Chinese workers were hired, for they were hardworking and reliable employees at the time. The Chinese worked more for less money, which made many white workers lose their jobs. Due to the many unemployed white workers, a Chinese Exclusion Act was passed on May 6, 1882 to limit the loss of jobs for white workers. I had learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act before in a chinese-oriented summer camp before, but I never learned about its effect on U.S. families. I was only told about what had happened to the part of the family left in China and how they miss their family and couldn’t bring them here. The movie expanded on the thought and cleared up many misconceptions I had on the topic beforehand.
When the Chinese started to settle in the Mississippi Delta, they were harshly frowned upon and became a victim of racism. As a person born in the 21st century, I never thought of the Chinese as a huge victim of racism but still believe they are affected by racism. This racism influenced Chinese education. All Chinese students were not accepted into public schools because they were segregated and meant for white people; therefore, the school could not accept any other race. The Chinese knew that their kids had to be educated in order to be successful and help the family survive in such a severe environment. The Chinese took it upon themselves to make their own schools. They rented or built buildings to teach children subjects like math, reading, and science. These Chinese schools consisted of Chinese and white teachers that taught first to twelfth grades. When Chinese students were finally allowed in public schools, many, if not all, Chinese students did very well in class, leading to the creation of the stereotype of all Chinese people being exceptional at math. The mere fact that the action of allowing Chinese children to receive education turned into a stereotype just goes to show how cruel it was to live in such a racial community.
I was teased with this stereotype for a great while of my life. When a new math test was given back to our class in elementary school, a great number of my friends and classmates would always tease me saying many things along the lines of “I‘d bet ten dollars that you got a perfect score on that test.” or “I swear you have an A+ in Math on your report card.” knew that these
statements that were being said had no harm against them but I could never shake off the stress that it had given me. I would always tell myself if I didn’t get that one hundred, I am not who I am supposed to be and that I have failed. This type of stress and motivation can be interpreted as a way to keep myself in a mindset to succeed but it wasn’t like that. The stress and motivation was spawned by a fear of failing and humiliation more than a passion to succeed. As I grew older, I started to learn that I was a person of my own and stereotypes did not define me but were mere assumptions of outsiders. This film thoroughly explained the history of this stereotype and I am now at peace with this past memory. I am genuinely indebted to this part of the movie.
Moving along to Part 2, 182 men from ages 18 to 48 from the Mississippi Delta had volunteered to go to war with the Japanese when they had bombed Pearl Harbor. I could not grasp the idea that such a huge sum of people would willingly risk their lives to go to the military while having a family back home barely clinging on for dear life. I would consider volunteering not the “best card” to play in this period of time but I do respect their bravery to fight for the
U.S. This statistic changed my viewpoint on the type of careers Chinese people choose. When I think about a career that a Chinese person would choose, I’ll think of a doctor or an entrepreneur or a job that is stable and successful. On the other hand, these men chose a risky job that they could lose their lives to. After the war ended, the Chinese started to be accepted into the Mississippi Delta. 182 men volunteering for the military had dulled racism from the Mississippi Delta. This is mindblowing to me. Something I imagined to be one of the worst moves to pull became one of the best moves to do.
Ending with Part 3 of the film, The Magnuson Act was set in stone in 1943 to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act. The War Bride Act was vetoed which let brides of veterans into America. It came near the time where many people wanted to be married. Many Chinese markets made a lot of profit off of traditional and unordinary ingredients that could not be found in a Stop and Shop™ or a Shaws™. Chinese children started to find many good opportunities like being accepted into good colleges and getting successful jobs. By this time in history, the Chinese were not frowned upon anymore and the racial orientation towards the Chinese was gone. The people of the Mississippi Delta were all kind to each other as everything reached equilibrium. Then, many Chinese families started to move out of the Mississippi Delta in search of more opportunities and better lives financially. This wonderful community starts to disintegrate as everyone moves on. Although the community no longer exists to this day, the Mississippi Delta still holds many of the remains of this great community and its mark on history.
I am still very grateful that I had the opportunity to see this movie. I cannot thank this film enough for what it had taught me about my culture and its history. This extraordinary movie has affected me on an intellectual level and an emotional level as well. I learned about the many hardships that Chinese immigrants faced and the history of a popular stereotype used on Chinese
people today. I have changed because of this film and hope that this movie can impacted many others to come.