India East, Brazil North, India West
Chinese Restaurants: Beyond Frontiers tells the story of the Chinese diaspora through its most recognizable and enduring icon – the family-run Chinese restaurant. Filmmaker Cheuk Kwan travels to the cities of India and into the jungles of Brazilian Amazon and come face to face with Chinese communities who have transcended geographical, political, and social frontiers.
The Yeh brothers were born in Calcutta and suffered from the aftermath the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict. Today, the four brothers reminisce what it was like to grow up Chinese in India as emigration decimated the once vibrant and prosperous community.
Taiwan immigrant Jack first established his restaurant thirty years ago in the Amazon city of Manaus. While contemplating retirement, his business-savvy US-educated son, Eddy, navigates his own unique identity – Chinese in heart but Brazilian in spirit.
The brothers Nini and Baba Ling grew up in a Chinese-Indian family. As Nini contemplates his retirement from the restaurant business, Baba is forging ahead with Nanking, the re-incarnated name of a landmark restaurant his father established in 1947.
Together, these community and personal histories illustrate the wider story of Chinese migration and settlement and celebrate the resilience and complexity of the Chinese diaspora. They highlight the fluidity and highly personal nature of identity, and the struggle of ethnic minorities to break through cultural and racial boundaries.
Whenever I travel, I would eat at Chinese restaurants and listen to their owners’ fascinating life stories. For twenty-five years, I have always wanted to make a film about the Chinese diaspora through the life and times of these owners. The result is Chinese Restaurants.
What I find fascinating about diasporic communities around the world is that, as a minority in an otherwise homogenous society, it is a constant struggle to define their own identity and establish their place in the mainstream society, and in the process, they helped push the social and cultural boundaries in their host societies.
The Chinese communities in Beyond Frontiers have established in societies as multicultural and multi-ethnic as Brazil, and as multi-language multi-religion as India.
In Calcutta, the Yeh family lived through the worst of the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict in the Himalayan region and saw the once vibrant Calcutta Chinese community decimated to no more than 2,000 people. In Brazil, a lone entrepreneur left the “comfort zone” of the south to head north towards the equator, and the Amazon. Finally, in Bombay, two brothers of mix Chinese-Indian heritage had to battle discrimination to achieve what they have become today.
All these people have pushed boundaries — geographical, physical, social, political, and cultural – to be accepted by the mainstream society. They work hard, survive, prosper and nurture the next generation. They are our silent heroes of today.