“Arts in Chinatown” documentary to be screened in the Student Performance Center Monday


Courtesy of Xinyan Fu.

By Abigail Lee, Magazine Editor

A new student documentary focuses on Boston’s Chinatown, a community that many Emerson students are familiar with, but do not fully know. 

Senior journalism major Xinyan Fu’s short documentary Arts in Chinatown brings attention to artists in the neighborhood whose work challenges mainstream narratives about Asian immigrants. Originally a project for Fu’s Multimedia Capstone class in the fall, the documentary will be screened on Monday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Student Performance Center.

The screening is co-sponsored by the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) and Asian Students in Alliance (ASIA). Food from local Chinatown restaurants will be provided for the audience. 

The screening is part of an initiative to showcase the work of international students, according to Andrea Popa, Director of OISA.

“[Xinyan’s] project was exactly the type of project we were hoping to spotlight for a wider audience,” Popa said. 

Fu decided the focus of her class assignment would be Boston’s Chinatown because of how little engagement Emerson students have with the neighborhood beyond visiting the local businesses.

“​​At least in Emerson, we always see it as a site, like an amusement park or theme park or a place that students go get boba tea,” said Fu. 

The 16-minute documentary, which can be viewed on YouTube, features interviews with five different artists, including the painter Wen-ti Tsen and Emerson alumnus Alison Yueming Qu. The artists discuss living in Boston’s Chinatown and creating work that represents the experiences of Asian immigrants, something that outsiders may not have much exposure to.

“Chinatown is not just a place that’s full of restaurants,” said Fu. “It’s a place of generations of effort, of immigrants from all over Asia trying to find their lives in America.” 

The documentary interweaves artist interviews, archival footage, and historical research. Many moments in the documentary allow the artists to speak about their identity in relation to history and the inaccurate representations of Asian Americans in pop culture. 

Like many Emerson students, Fu considers herself an outsider to this community. She grew up in Fujian, China and never lived in the U.S. before enrolling at Emerson. The Asian American experience, including having the common identity crisis, is one she has come to know, she said.

“I learned a lot about the bigger picture immigration history in the U.S. in general,” said Fu. “That has led to many issues that people are trying to address in Chinatown nowadays.” 

Fu’s awareness of Chinatown’s arts programming began in Summer 2021 when she returned to Boston for the first time since Spring 2020. When the pandemic hit, she went back home that spring and ended up taking online classes through the 2020-2021 academic year. 

Fu said the social movements during the pandemic, like Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, led to increased attention on marginalized communities. These movements she noticed, highlighted Chinatown more on social media, and the effects of this push were visible when she landed in Boston last summer.

“There are more younger people who [have] jumped into this discourse of advocacy,” said Fu.

Popa expressed that she wants students to learn about this neighboring community from viewing the documentary.

“We hope that those that attend the screening will feel a stronger connection to our neighborhood in Chinatown, and to the artists that work in the community,” Popa said. 

When considering the impact of her documentary, Fu said she hopes students will walk away with a different perspective on Chinatown.

“The bare minimum that I’m hoping [is] that they can have a curiosity about Chinatown,” Fu said. “Because the documentary is really just 16 minutes, and it’s really not a very comprehensive picture of the history of Boston Chinatown.”

She emphasized how Emerson students fail to appreciate Chinatown as a community and neighborhood beyond its attractions.

“We live right next to Chinatown and we kind of depend on it for our daily lives, for our grocery shopping,” Fu said. “We take advantage of it.”