Long-awaited documentary tells story of ‘Mississippi Delta Chinese’

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A 22-year effort to produce a documentary came to fruition recently when “Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese” was shown at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters, Manalapan, during Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

Asian Pacific Heritage Month was celebrated in May. President Jimmy Carter recognized the first 10 days of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Week in 1978 and President George H.W. Bush extended the recognition to a month in 1990.

“Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese” is an 81-minute documentary which focuses on Chinese Americans who have lived in Mississippi since the 19th century.

“We are showing this documentary to demonstrate that we have been part of the building of this nation for a long time, yet what we have done is often not taught in schools,” said Shirley Ng, an advocate and community volunteer with the Manalapan Township Television Network and the American Legion Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291.

“We want to demystify who we are and eliminate racist stereotypes people have of us, thinking we are foreigners when many of us have been in this country for a long time,” she said.

Also present from the American Legion Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 were Fang Wong, a past national commander and the first Asian American to hold the position; Corky Lee, commander of Sons of American Legion; and Kenny Wong, the immediate past commander. The post is named for Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese American pilot who was shot down during World War II.

The event’s speakers sought to focus attention on the contributions of Asian Americans throughout history, contributions which they said have been overlooked.

“It’s a continuous effort to bring awareness of Asian Americans in this great country,” Fang Wong said.

“We want to put this in our American history,” Kenny Wong said.

In American history, May marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The majority of the workers on the railroad were Chinese American.

“It’s important to say we are part and parcel of what made American great,” Lee said. “The Chinese laid the groundwork for the transcontinental railroad … It’s been overlooked, but they helped bind the country back together after the Civil War.”

For Chinese Americans in the Mississippi Delta, a key contribution was their involvement in World War II. Lee said more than 200 Chinese Americans from the area participated in the United States’ war effort.

In addition to the Chinese Americans from the Mississippi Delta who fought in World War II, Lee said Asian Americans have served in the nation’s armed forces as far back as the Civil War.

Ng estimated that 233 Asian Americans from New Jersey joined the military during World War II.

“We have so many Asian Americans in the arts and now we want to talk about the military,” said Ng, who said her daughter’s great-grandfather served in World War II.

Following the war, Chinese Americans in the Mississippi Delta, whom Lee said numbered about 250 at their height, helped the development of the community in the decades that followed and made major contributions to the state and beyond.

Lee said the first three Chinese American mayors in the United States all came from the Mississippi Delta.

Lee and Ng said that today, the contributions of Asian Americans continue to grow in the United States with positions in government and at agencies such as NASA.

Furthermore, they said Asian Americans hold prominence in New Jersey and in the county, with Fang Wong noting that Asian Americans comprise the second-largest population in Monmouth County.

“In the end, we hope to bridge relationships with other people,” Ng said.