The five-part documentary series that premieres Monday, narrated by Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, spans 150 years. But it couldn’t arrive at a more timely moment, says Jen Yamato. "As long as Asians have been in the United States they’ve helped shape its history but have often been left out of the lessons taught in schools," says Yamato. "At home, family histories often go unspoken by older generations who strove through xenophobia, racist legislation, migratory waves, societal shifts, wars and their aftermaths in the pursuit of happiness." Asian Americans "rewrites that history in vibrant detail," Yamato adds, highlighting "milestones in the history of the country’s fastest-growing demographic — a sprawling group in itself, comprising diverse origin countries, languages and histories — with the help of Asian American scholars, historians and artists like Hari Kondabolu, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Randall Park as well as the descendants of subjects who fought to be seen as more than foreigners in the country they called home." Oscar-nominated Asian Americans producer Renee Tajima-Peña says the documentary is just the start of a story. “It doesn’t feel like we’re finished with the series,” she says. “It feels like we’re starting this whole new conversation.”
Asian Americans is an "angry five hours, and properly so": "Even a thumbnail history of the Asian experience in the United States would have to address a consistent thread of anti-Asian racism that includes the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese American internment camps during World War II and violence as ethnic scapegoating during the Vietnam War and after the 9/11 attacks," says G. Allen Johnson. "That the series...also achieves a sense of admirable perseverance and notes of optimism makes for compelling viewing. Five hours just didn’t seem like enough."
Narrator Tamlyn Tomita on recent surge of Asian-American TV shows, movies and stars: "Our Asian American stories, our old stories, happen to be your new stories," says Tomita. "You get a new set of glasses to see the world that we all inhabit . . . and I think what we find out is that the stories that you're seeing as immigrant stories are your grandparents' stories, are your great-grandparents' stories. You just happen to be separated from them a little bit or happen to be closer aligned with the background from which your forefathers and foremothers came. It's just all the same stories."
Narrator Daniel Dae Kim on why Asian Americans didn't exist until 2020: "That’s a very loaded question," he says. "I think it speaks to our place in American society and how we’ve been perceived up until today and including today. We have been a part of the fabric of this country, and yet we’ve been overlooked relative to other minorities. Though we have worked really hard to assimilate collectively, events that are depicted in this documentary, as well as in the news today, show us that we really aren’t considered as American as most others."