A Filipino daughter struggles with depression and reunites with her father, a COVID-19 survivor, after 14 months apart. A Cambodian American refugee lives under the specter of deportation for a 20-year-old mistake. A Sikh community grapples with the aftermath of a deadly mass shooting.

These and other true stories of tribulation and perseverance are the slice-of-life subjects featured in two episodes of Local, USA: Asian American Stories of Resilience and Beyond, receiving their broadcast premieres on GBH WORLD in May, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Resilience is the latest storytelling initiative GBH WORLD has coproduced in an ongoing partnership with the Asian American Documentary Network (A-Doc) and Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). It is a showcase for emerging AAPI filmmakers who are committed to transforming even the most challenging experiences into opportunities for understanding and human connection.

Kimberlee Bassford's 'My Chinatown, with Aloha' is one of seven short films included in the series 'Local USA: Asian American Stories of Resilience and Beyond.'
Kimberlee Bassford's 'My Chinatown, with Aloha' is one of seven short films included in the series 'Local USA: Asian American Stories of Resilience and Beyond.'

“There’s a lot of suffering in our community,” said A-Doc Operations Director Lailanie Gadia, one of the series’ producers. “But what’s really powerful is the resilience. Despite that suffering, we’re still finding ways to move forward, get our stories told, create art, build something positive and make change in our communities for the better.”

Indeed, the documentary project was born out of a response to the dark early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a dramatic rise in racist anti-Asian violence and rhetoric. Back in 2020, “We were all isolated and unable to support one another, and we needed an outlet for all that negativity,” said Sapana Sakya, CAAM talent development and special projects manager. That artistic outlet wound up being a series of two-minute “mini docs” about the pandemic that were commissioned from AAPI filmmakers.

The Resilience series, though, which includes seven very different 10-minute documentaries selected from over 100 submissions, allows AAPI creatives to go longer and dig deeper on even more complex topics related to immigration, racial reckoning, gun violence and more. The series paired each prodigious director with a seasoned pro to serve as a mentor, providing vital guidance, feedback and professional development. “Talented filmmakers help us understand the world we live in,” said Chris Hastings, executive producer at GBH WORLD, which released the insightful docs digitally last year. The two-part broadcast premiere this month will include additional interviews with the auteurs about their journeys making their films.

At its core, after all, Resilience is all about amplifying voices from AAPI communities that are too often ignored or misrepresented in the media. “There have been so many representations of Asian Americans that make them feel othered,” said filmmaker Sarita Khurana, whose documentary Crossroads, about the mass shooting of a majority Sikh staff at a FedEx facility in Indiana in 2021, is included in Resilience. “Any time a filmmaker from a community makes a story about that community, it’s going to have deeper resonance and more authenticity. It’s going to be multidimensional.”

'Crossroads', about the mass shooting of a majority Sikh staff at a FedEx facility in Indiana in 2021, is among the short documentaries featured in 'Local USA: Asian American Stories of Resilience and Beyond.'

While the pandemic that largely inspired the Resilience project is now in a very different stage, the need to tell—and hear—stories from AAPI filmmakers is as important as ever. “There’s still in the news a targeting of Asian Americans that I never felt in my life before,” said director Kimberlee Bassford. Her film for the Resilience series, My Chinatown, with Aloha, is a personal exploration of her family’s relationship to Honolulu Chinatown, and it draws parallels between the discrimination against Chinese Americans during COVID-19 and the scapegoating that occurred when the 1899-1900 bubonic plague hit Hawai’i. Illuminating these complicated pasts, she says, is necessary for a better future. “It’s like they say: If we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it.”

Looking to the future, the storytelling partnership between GBH WORLD and A-Doc is poised to present yet another vital series if it can secure the funding, this one designed to encourage civic engagement in democracy. Dubbed The Margin of Victory, the series would explore the impact and potential of Asian Americans as a citizen force to be considered, not dismissed. This new work would be slated for release in mid- 2024, around the time of the next U.S. national election, and could provide a template for additional installments that consider the power of African American communities, Latino voters and others at the ballot box.

It’s all an extension of the GBH WORLD commitment to exploring the diversity of the American experience through a lens that ultimately emphasizes how much we have in common. When it comes to Resilience, for instance, “You may not be AAPI, but the humanity of these stories still speaks to you,” said Liz Cheng, general manager for television at GBH and WORLD. “We can celebrate our commonalities and our differences. We all want the same things: a safe, secure, sustainable place for ourselves and the people we love.”