Film Image
Bittersweet Survival : Southeast Asian ​R​efugees in America
Producer: Third World Newsreel
30 minutes
English subtitles

Bittersweet Survival : Southeast Asian ​R​efugees in America

This documentary examines the re-settlement of South-East Asian refugees in the United States in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The film begins with a montage of riveting footage depicting the devastating effects of the war. It then unveils the mixed reception given Vietnamese refugees in the United States, from battles with local fishermen in Monterey, California, to conflicts in Philadelphia where their arrival in the city's poorest neighborhoods kindled resentment in the Black community. The film also explores their struggle to cope with life in the U.S. and maintain their identity.
"Technique for us is secondary. The people themselves have a rich life experience, a knowledge of history and their culture and community organization. And these people are far more qualified to make films than people who have learned their skills in a school."

-Christine Choy
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"For many refugees, America is not the land of hope, but the place of shattered dreams." - David Kishiyama, L.A.TIMES
"TEACH OUR CHILDREN (1974) captures the abolitionist spirit of the Attica Prison Rebellion; FROM SPIKES TO SPINDLES (1976) gives voice to Chinatown labor organizing around sweatshops and gentrification; BITTERSWEET SURVIVAL (1982) and HOMES APART: KOREA (1991) the destructive legacy of American empire and militarism in Vietnam and South Korea. These films interrogate the legacies of incarceration and imperialism that all Americans inherit; rather than assimilation, these films point us to the necessary abolition of prisons and military bases. Choy’s lens never loses sight of what is human and universal, whether it is the loss of a loved one or searching for home—but these things are never subordinated to the political, nor can they be thought of outside of a political context. In this way, Choy’s films are a valuable lesson in how to think productively about identity and politics today." - Peter Kim George, Sentient Bulletin
"Two documentayr films—BITTERSWEET SURVIVAL (1982) by Christine Choy and J.T. Takagi and MISSISSIPPI TRIANGEL by Christiny Choy, Worth Long and Allan Siegel—uncover the socio-political and economic roots of interracial tension. This is a critical undertaking because it undermindes the notion that racism is simply a quesiton of attitude, or worse, of some ingrained, quasi-genetic antipathy ascribed to “human nature.” - Richard Fung, Seeing Yellow: Asian Indentities in Film & Video

• Honorable Mention, Athens International Film Festival
• Silk Screen Series, PBS, 1982
• At Home and Abroad Film Series, Harvard Film Archive

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TWN acknowledges that in New York we are on the unceded territory of the Lenni Lenape, Canarsie, Shinecock, and Munsee peoples and challenges the harm that continues to be inflicted upon Indigenous and People of Color communities here and abroad, which is why we all need to be part of the struggle for rights, equality and justice.

TWN is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Color Congress, MOSAIC, New York Community Trust, Peace Development Fund, Ford Foundation, Golden Globe Foundation, Kolibri Foundation and individual donors.