Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Victor Migalchan wants to bring his love of Chinese culture to others through his work and martial arts. Photo: Getty Images

The Chinese-speaking Ukrainian martial artist fighting hate crime by teaching Asian-Americans self-defence, and his efforts to unite disparate cultures

  • Victor Migalchan’s ease in speaking Chinese – he trained in martial arts on trips to China – is part of his affinity with Chinese culture, he says
  • ‘I’m a Western person, but Chinese inside,’ says the Ukrainian-born, Los Angeles-based actor, who’s just had a drama series launch on Amazon Prime

In his first scene in My American Family, Victor Migalchan launches into fluent Chinese while on the phone in a car.

It was a moment for which the Ukrainian-born, Los Angeles-based actor, director and producer needed no dialogue coaching – Migalchan already knew how to speak the language thanks to his previous trips to China. His ease with the language is part of his affinity with Chinese culture, which he describes as sincere and authentic, and “not like Panda Express”.

Migalchan was speaking in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, soon after the premiere of his series, which landed on March 25 on Amazon Prime. He stars as Alexander Romanovich, a man who arrives in that city from China on a homestay programme that pairs him with a Mexican-American family.

They were expecting a young Chinese person with limited English skills. What they get instead is a multilingual adult of Eastern European descent, who wears suits and has secrets of his own. The project – which also stars actor and restaurateur Danny Trejo – was a labour of love for Migalchan, who wants to help fuse different cultures together in entertainment.

Migalchan’s My American Family is streaming on Amazon Prime. Photo: Victor Migalchan

It’s not just in entertainment where Migalchan is aiming to do this, though. The actor – who has practised martial arts since the age of four – has also started to offer free self-defence classes to anyone who wants them.

His offer comes at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise. Over the past two months, Migalchan has noticed that about 80 per cent of his students are Asians, who tell him they sometimes feel afraid to leave their homes.

Desmond Chiam on racial inequality and Asian stereotypes in Hollywood

“More and more people are signing up,” he said. “We are seeing 30 to 35 people per class every time we train. They’re afraid. They say they want to have a little bit of skill for self-protection.”

Migalchan practises wushu – which is called “kung fu” by his students – and he is also proficient in various styles of tai chi, Shaolin kung fu, sanda (Chinese free fighting) and karate. 

“I come from the traditional school of Chinese martial arts. These are practical skills, used for protection. It’s an authentic practice. Modern martial arts as a practice is very different. To me, it’s like a show.”

Migalchan (left) giving a tai chi seminar. Photo: Instagram/@victormigalchan
Migalchan in Meishan, Sichuan province, with a Meishan wushu grandmaster. Photo: Instagram/@victormigalchan
Migalchan, who is of Austrian, Romanian and Polish descent, began his martial arts training in Europe, before heading to Beijing, Hebei and Hunan in China to learn more. He has been taught by a number of martial arts masters, and one of them, Hu Jiangiang (who worked with actor Jet Li on The Shaolin Temple films), appears in the first episode of My American Family

Now that the first season of My American Family is out, Migalchan is turning his focus to his other projects. One of them is Dragon Chef, a cooking show where chefs from different countries cook authentic Chinese dishes, leading to what Migalchan hopes will be the learning of valuable lessons.

Actors Magi Avila, Migalchan, Steve Jacques and Kimberly Alexis Yee at the premiere of My American Family. Photo: Getty Images

That notion of learning, and of making heartfelt connections, is something that runs through everything Migalchan dabbles in. Despite the shortcomings in My American Family – breaches in logic, stilted dialogue, stereotypical characters – the focus on wholesome family connections shines through. The teenagers on the show might roll their eyes at their parents, but there’s no back talk or profanity.

“I’m a Western person, but Chinese inside,” he said. “I’ve learned the language. I understand Confucius. I bring the authenticity of this culture to other people so they can learn. If they don’t like it, or don’t want it, that’s fine. But at least I can offer it.”