By Alyssa Schnugg
When Baldwin Chiu and his family decided to travel to Mississippi from their homes in Sacramento on a quest to find out more information about his grandfather who wound up in the Delta after migrating from China, his expectations weren’t too high.
“I thought maybe we’d find his gravestone and place some flowers,” Chiu told Hotty Toddy News recently.
However, the Chiu family would wind up finding so much more.
That journey is documented in Chiu’s film, “Far East Deep South,” which will be shown this weekend at 3 p.m. on Sunday in the Barnard Observatory on the University of Mississippi campus. A discussion with Chiu will follow the free screening.
The award-winning documentary feature film was released in 2020 just as the pandemic hit the nation, causing most of its initial screenings to be done digitally. That year, it won the first-place prize for Best Mississippi Feature at the Oxford Film Festival.
It also won awards at Cinequest, CAAMFest and the Seattle Asian American Film Festival. The film made its broadcast premiere on PBS/World Channel’s series “America ReFramed.”
“This film is about is about our journey of discovery, learning about our history and our shared experiences with other communities,” Chiu said.
The film is based on the award-winning short film, “Finding Cleveland.”
After ‘Finding Cleveland,’ we continued our research and we found so much more information and that’s what turned into our full feature-length film,” said Chiu, who produced the film along with his wife, Larissa Lam, who also wrote and directed the film.
Chiu’s father, Charles, a retired U.S. Air Force reservist, was left behind in China with his mother when his father, K.C. Lou came to the states to make a living.
During the family’s trip to the Delta, they found the spot where K.C. Had a grocery store for many years.
“The store is gone now,” Chiu said. “But we were able to meet residents in Pace and Cleveland who remembered my grandfather and the store.”
Chiu said his father didn’t talk about his father much. But when his own daughter was born and he saw his father hold his daughter, he realized he had never shared that experience with his own grandfather.
“So my brother and I thought, if there’s some sort of rumblings about our grandfather and great-grandfather and Mississippi, maybe we should all take a trip out there and see what it’s all about,” Chiu said. “And so we convinced my father and my mom to agree to go to Mississippi and try to see what we could find out.”
The family took their first trip to Mississippi about eight years ago.
“We learned this fascinating story about our past that extended not just in Cleveland, Mississippi, but all along the Delta,” he said.
The family returned to the Delta again a few months later to continue their research by talking to more residents and visiting the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum.
“I think the biggest thing for us was that we found not only my grandfather and great-grandfather there, but it was an entire community of Chinese Americans that have been in the region since the late 1800s. And to learn about that history, I think that’s what really opened our eyes the most.”
The film not only shows the family’s personal journey but provides a window into the lives of the Chinese in the South and the discrimination they faced in the midst of segregation. The film highlights the struggles and perseverance of the Chinese and explores the racial dynamics between the white, Black and Chinese communities at that time.
“We’ve had people who are black, white, Asian, Latino, come up to us and say, ‘You know what? Your story has made me want to research my own family history.’”
During their journey to Mississippi, the family did also locate K.C.’s gravesite where they placed two pots of flowers.
For more information about “Far East Deep South, visit https://fareastdeepsouth.com/.