From the Far East to the Old West: Chinese and Japanese Settlers in Montana

From the Far East to the Old West: Chinese and Japanese Settlers in Montana

The Mansfield Foundation has produced an Emmy-nominated historical documentary about the thousands of Chinese and Japanese who came to Montana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to describing why they left their homeland and what drew them to Montana, the video features diaries, original photographs, newspapers of the day and contemporary interviews with historians and descendants to show what these Asian immigrants did in Montana, the hardships they faced, and the contributions they made to the American West.

Pioneer City, Montana Territory, 1883. Photograph by F. Jay Haynes (#H-1098), courtesy of the Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society)

The documentary received a regional Emmy nomination from the Seattle chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for cultural/historical documentaries produced in 1999.

Intended to fill a gap in the information resources about Asians in Montana’s history, the documentary was distributed free of charge to schools along with a study guide. Public television stations across the nation also have broadcast the video.

A second goal of the video is to increase awareness of past ties between Montana and Asia as a way of improving understanding about the United States’ economic and strategic relations with China and Japan as well as Asia’s critical role in the world today.

Funding Sources

To support this project, the Mansfield Foundation received funding from the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership, the Montana Committee for the Humanities, U.S. Bank, and the Montana Community Foundation’s Fund for Tolerance. The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation also provided funding.

Personnel

Kathy Witkowsky directed the production. Ms. Witkowsky previously co-produced, wrote and directed the documentary Bella Vista: An Unseen View of World War II about Italians incarcerated at Fort Missoula during the war. Pat Murdo, program manager in the Montana office, served as producer and chief researcher. Looking Glass Films of Hamilton provided an award-winning camera crew and video editors. Actor George Takei, who serves on the boards of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the Japanese American National Museum, served as narrator. Preeminent Asian scholar Peter Duus of Stanford University reviewed the historical accuracy of the video as did Professor Robert Swartout of Carroll College, the acknowledged expert on Asians in early Montana. Annick Smith, who has produced such feature films as Heartland, served as a video consultant.

In addition, the Center worked with a 12-member advisory board that included: two award-winning documentary film and video directors; scholars with specific knowledge about the history of China and Japan or about the Chinese and Japanese in Montana; middle school educators; and long-time Montanans of Japanese and Chinese ancestry.

Distribution

Developed primarily for middle school students in Montana history classes, the video and a study guide were distributed free of charge to schools throughout the state with the help of the Montana Office of Public Instruction. Viewers include Montana’s 26,500 middle school students each year as well as elementary and high school students.

Screenings of the video with a question and answer period with the producer, Pat Murdo, have been held in conjunction with museums and nonprofit organizations across Montana – from Havre to Eureka in the north to Billings in the south, and Missoula, Butte, Helena, Great Falls and Bozeman in-between.

Disclaimer

The findings and comments presented in the video and accompanying study guide do not necessarily represent the views of the Montana Committee for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities or our other sponsors.

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