The Wong Family, American born and educated, The Chinese Exclusion Law made it difficult for the young generation to find employment, forcing many families to seek opportunities back in China. Wong Tong Family Archives

The Wong Family, American born and educated, The Chinese Exclusion Law made it difficult for the young generation to find employment, forcing many families to seek opportunities back in China. Wong Tong Family Archives


“Who is American?” will foster greater public understanding and dialogue about the history and impact of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, a landmark, little known piece of federal legislation that reshaped American law, foreign policy and civic life.

What made the Chinese survive the most difficult conditions in this country is mainly their identification with American founding principles, and also their faith in themselves, and they refused to be excluded.- Renqui Yu (Professor of History, SUNY-Purchase)

CAAM is one of the co-producers of and is leading the educational outreach for the new PBS documentary film THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT by award-winning documentary filmmakers Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu of Steeplechase Films.

Join CAAM’s campaign to distribute free educational resources and host community screenings to reach thousands of students, teachers, and community members in support of the film THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT. 


THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT will have its broadcast premiere on the acclaimed PBS series American Experience during APA Heritage Month in May 2017.  This two-hour film documents in fascinating detail the events leading to, causes of, consequences, and continuing impact of the only federal legislation in United States history ever to single out and name a specific race and nationality for exclusion from immigration and citizenship.

This film sheds a light on the important connections between the Chinese Exclusion Act and the history of American civil liberties, immigration, and culture. By examining the socio-economic and geo-political forces that led to the Act, the film will uncover its unmistakable and wide-ranging consequences on national attitudes towards race, culture, politics, and society. At its core, this is a film about American identity, tracing the arc of what has defined being American from the time the United States was a fledgling republic through its astronomical rise as a world superpower.

The 1882 Exclusion Law has been forgotten, but once we remember it, it is outrageous. And it’s probably why we’ve forgotten it because it is so outrageous. … How can this country, in its culture, in its politics, in its economics, do what it did against a whole class of people?” – Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen (Founding Director, A/P/A Institute at NYU)

The film guides viewers through the hardships and racial animosities that Chinese Americans faced throughout the duration of the law, including educational segregation, forced registration, and lynchings. THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT also reveals a forgotten history of Chinese American resilience and resistance to the 15 laws enacted by the federal government, as well as those passed at the state and local levels. By challenging the constitutionality of these laws and  the affronts to their civil rights through community organizing, civil disobedience, and the courts system, Chinese Americans brought 10,000 cases to federal courts and set a number of legal precedents that remain intact today. Through the lens of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a wider, deeply American story comes to life, one that embodies the issues of globalization, immigration, labor, and civil rights that continue to dominate headlines today.

The film includes powerful and illuminating on-camera testimony from historians Erika Lee (University of Minnesota), Mary Ting Yi Lui (Yale University), Mae Ngai (Columbia University), Jean Pfaelzer (University of Delaware), Kevin Starr (USC-Dornsife), Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen (Founding Director, A/P/A Institute at NYU), Ling-Chi Wang (UC Berkeley), K. Scott Wong (Williams College), Renqiu Yu (SUNY-Purchase), along with Phillip Choy (architect, historian and archivist), Michael C. Lin (Chairman, 1882 Project), David Lei (cultural advocate), and Martin Gold (attorney and author).

“Who is American?” Educational Outreach for the PBS Documentary THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT crowdfunding campaign
From August – September 2016, we hosted a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $76,267 from over 415 people in support of this film. Our crowdfunding campaign was the first step of our larger goal to raise $400,000 to complete the creation, development and execution of our national strategy to provide educational curriculum about the Chinese Exclusion Act and host educational screenings of the film to students and teachers across the nation from 2017-2018.

We appreciate everyone who shared this campaign and film with their friends, relatives and networks. Thanks to each of you, more people now know about this landmark, little known piece of federal legislation and why it is relevant to understanding the American experience – past, present, and future.


Click here to the list of campaign supporters*

Ginger Adams
Denise Bednar
Bill Bishop
Mitchell Bonner
Jocelyn S. Carter
Sheree Chan
Alex Chan
Gayle Chan
Heather Chan
Joyce Chan
Lily Chan
Ronald K. Chan and Jane G. Chan
Phil Chang
Abby Chen
Kelvin Chen
Matty Chen
Nain Chen
Peter W. Chen
Adam Cheung
Thomas Chew
John Chiang
Jennie Chien
Paul Chin
Yung Chin
David Choi
Ailynn Knox-Collins
Wilson Chu
Cynthia Der
Chung Der
Anna Don
Lester Dun
Judy Eisenbrand
Norman and Candice Eng
Kenneth Eng
Julianne Eng
Norman Eng
Deanna Fone
Evelyn Fong
Janet Fong
Dagmar Fung
William Fung
Becca Giang
Cindy Gieng
Julie Ha
Dennis Ham
Melody Hom
Julie Hood
Stephen Hsieh
Michael Hsieh
Tine Hsu
Trent Hu
Jessica Huang
Milana Huang
Candace Huey
Judy Huey
Brian Hui
Dennis Jang
Serina Jensen
Weirong Jiang
Catherine Johnston
Nicholas Jones
Ted Kao
Han Kim
May and George Koo
Mike Kwan
James Kwok
Anne Kwong
Alfred Lee
Annie Lee
Benny Lee
Emery Lee
Gordon Lee
Henry Lee
Jeff and Melvina Lee
John Lee
Matthew Lee
Patricia Lee
Wayne Lee
Tiffany Lei
Andrew Leong
Sherman Lew
Kitty L. Lew
Carol Li
Mengying Li
Jeanine Lim
Nancy Lim Yee and Edmund Yee
Michael Lok
Lawland Long
Veronica Long
Annie Loo
Vanita Louie
Jodie Louie
Joanne Low
Li Lu
Robert Martin
Ki-Wing Merlin
Jana McBurney-Lin
Therese Mitros
Bill Moy
Vivian Nagy
Anthony Ng
Amy Ng
Tram Nguyen
Chris Nishida
Patricia Nishimoto
Hideaki Noguchi
Natalie Hom Oyung
Ling-yuh Pattie
Beverly Pierce
Gisele Pohan
Lawrence Pon
Eva Poon
Daniel Quan
Geoffrey Quan
Robert Russell
Julia Sen
Beatrice Shen
Nick Sheng
Judy S. Sit
Penelope and Rossi Snipper
Shelley Soo-Li
Carrie Stewart
Lanlian Szeto
Calvin and Fay Taam
Brian Tom
Kan and Anna Toy
Harry Trinh
Janet Tse
Monica Walters
Cecilia Tso Warner
Amy Wong
Sophia Wong
Allen Wong
Brenda Hee Wong
Vicky Wong
Donald and Margaret Wong
John Wong
Alex Woo
Wailan Woo
Christine Wu
Sinan Xin
Xinnin Yang
Cynthia Yee
Frank Yee
Gloria Yee
Anthony Yin
Richard Young
Janet Young
Sharon Young
Emily Yu
Philip Yu
Susan Yu
Taylor Zhou
Tenghui Zhu

*List of donors from Thursday, August 18- December 19, 2016.


In this exclusive behind the scenes interview, THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT directors Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu share what inspired them to tell the story of The Chinese Exclusion Act and how knowing this history can help all Americans better understand the American Experience.

Share this video with your friends, family and networks on social media using the hashtags #ChineseExclusionAct, #WhoisAmerican, and#StoriestoLight


Ric Burns headshot - high resolution. Photo courtesy of Steeplechase Films.

Ric Burns (Director)
Six-time Emmy Award-winning director Ric Burns has been creating historical documentaries for public television for over 20 years. He began his career co-writing and producing the celebrated PBS series The Civil War (1990) with his brother Ken and Geoffrey C. Ward, and has since directed over 30 hours of award-winning films. Among his body of work are some of some of the most distinguished programs in the public television series American Experience and American Masters. 2015 saw the release three films by Burns: American Ballet Theatre: A History, which chronicles the rich history and legacy of America’s only national ballet company, Debt of Honor, which examines how the American government and society have regarded disabled veterans throughout history, and The Pilgrims which brings to life the story of the men and women of the Mayflower, uncovering the forces, circumstances, personalities and events that converged to propel their crossing to the New World.  Burns was educated at Columbia University and Cambridge University. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.



Li-Shin Yu (Director)
Li-Shin Yu, a New York-based film editor, has collaborated with Director Ric Burns for the past twenty-three years and is co-directing The Chinese Exclusion Act.  Yu and Burns are best known for their epic series NEW YORK: a documentary film, an eight-part production chronicling the city’s rise from a remote Dutch outpost to the cultural and economic center of the world, for which Yu received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Editing.  Their most recent film The Pilgrims, brings to life the story of the men and women of the Mayflower with a stunning performance by the late actor Roger Rees as William Bradford.  Yu’s other films with Burns include: Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer, Death and the Civil War, Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, We Shall Remain: Tecumseh’s Vision, Andy Warhol, Eugene O’Neill, Ansel Adams, and The Way West.  Their films have garnered multiple awards including Emmys, Peabodys, Writer’s Guild of America, Dupont-Columbia awards amongst many others.  Yu began her career collaborating with other New York independent filmmakers including Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Sara Driver and Peter Wang and more recently with documentarians Christine Choy, Bill Moyers, Thomas Lennon and Stanley Nelson amongst others.



Robin Espinola (Producer)
Robin Espinola is a producer and writer who has been working on historical programs for public television for over twenty years. With Ric Burns and Steeplechase Films, she has produced five programs for the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE series, including: The Chinese Exclusion Act; The Pilgrims; Death and the Civil War; Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World; and Eugene O’Neill. With Steeplechase Films she also produced Nueva York, a short film for museum exhibition on the history of Latinos in New York. She served as a co-producer for Andy Warhol: A documentary film for the American Masters series. Espinola began working at Steeplechase Films as series archivist for the acclaimed multi-part series NEW YORK: a documentary film. In 2004, Espinola was awarded a News and Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in the Craft of Research (with Michael Beschloss and Bruce Kennedy) for a Discovery program on Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Act. Espinola’s additional research and production credits include Vote for Me: Politics in America; Malcolm X: Make it Plain (directed by Orlando Bagwell); The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow; George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire; Blackside’s Great Depression series, and two seasons of the PBS history game show “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” Espinola received a BA from Brown University in American Civilization and Semiotics.



STEPHENHEADSHOTStephen Gong (Executive Producer for CAAM)
Stephen Gong is the Executive Director of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). Stephen has been associated with CAAM since its founding in 1980, and has served as Executive Director since 2006. His previous positions in arts administration include: Deputy Director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive at the University of California, Berkeley; Program Officer in the Media Arts program at the National Endowment for the Arts; and Associate Director of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute.



Donald Young (Producer for CAAM)
Donald Young is Director of Programs for the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).  He oversees all of CAAM’s program areas, including CAAMFest, funding for filmmakers, national productions, and public television strategies.  Donald has developed and produced numerous programs for the PBS prime time schedule, most recently “Off the Menu: Asian America” by Grace Lee and Gotham Award-winning “Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings” by Tadashi Nakamura.  Upcoming projects include MacArthur Foundation grantee “Daze of Justice” by Michael Siv, and Doris Duke Foundation supported Muslim Youth Voices with Musa Syeed, and a multi-part series on Asian American history co-produced with WETA.  Donald has also produced independent feature films, including “The Princess of Nebraska” by Wayne Wang, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Donald has been a panelist for the Sundance Documentary Fund, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), the International Documentary Association (IDA), and many more.  In addition, he has been a Board member for Cal Humanities, National Association of Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.


Use the hashtags #WhoisAmerican and #StoriestoLight on social media.

CAAM to develop “Who is American?” Public Engagement project and they need your help (YOMYOMF, August 15, 2016)
Support the Discussion About The Chinese Exclusion Act (Resonate, August 17, 2016)
CAAM to Launch “Who is American?” Education Campaign on Chinese Exclusion Act (NBC Asian America, August 18, 2016)
Make an Impact with CAAM “The Chinese Exclusion Act” Educational Outreach (NBC Bay Area, September 6, 2016)
In search of scapegoats, exclusion past and present (San Francisco Chronicle, September 9, 2016)

Fill out and submit the form below if you’re interested in receiving a copy of the free educational resources and/or hosting a community screening of THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT PBS documentary by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu

Educational and Community Screenings and Resources for THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT PBS Documentary

Please fill out this form if you are interested in receiving a copy of the free educational curriculum resources CAAM will create in support of the new PBS documentary THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu. Please also fill out this form If you're interested in hosting a community screening of THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT at your school, organization, company or privately. After the film has its world premiere at CAAMFest in March 2017, a member of CAAM's team will follow up with you about your request.
  • Please add any questions you might have about the community screenings and resources and/or other important information we should know about your school / group / organization.