Alice Kim is making a documentary that “maps the immigrant identity” through black-and-white 35 mm photographs and audio recordings of her grandmother, Kyung Jo Seong, as she returns to South Korea for the first time in over a decade, perhaps for her last visit, “to care for and pay her respects to the graves of her parents, to get her family affairs in order, and to see her eldest daughter, the great-grandchildren she has never met, and childhood friends.” Mrs. Seong’s family left Korea in 1939, when she was twelve, to work on a farm in Nagoya, Japan. In 1950, at the age of twenty-three, married and with two children, she returned to South Korea. She arrived in the United States in November 1977 shortly after her fiftieth birthday and has lived in California ever since. Now, at eighty-five years old, she returns “home.”
“I believe this project is especially important, as those Koreans who were actually born and raised during the Japanese Imperial Period—let alone those who lived in Japan itself—grow fewer in number every year,” Alice Kim writes. “Furthermore, this project speaks to the human condition and to both personal and national identity, an identity separate from and inevitably tangled into citizenship and residency. Mrs. Seong adamantly considers herself Korean, and has done so her entire life . . . even as a young adult living in Japan . . . after being naturalized as an American citizen, after living and working here for thirty years. . . . What is it about this Korean identity that prompts her to cling to it?
“Her navigation of the joys and pitfalls of her uniquely triple identity culminates this summer. It is a question of her own mortality, reflected in the mountainside graves of her ancestors, her isolation and separation from this place, but also of her rebirth and her re-invention of self through immigration.”
Alice will be traveling with her grandmother to document “this self-reflection at the near end of such a long and eventful life.” As Alice says, “I am the last grandchild that Mrs. Seong raised. . . . There is still so much I do not know about my grandmother, her life before coming to America, and our family history. This project will be as much a self-discovery for my grandmother as it will be for me.”
David Mayer will be producing a documentary video that will offer an intimate and personal retelling of his grandfather’s Holocaust story as a parallel to his own comfortable suburban upbringing. Paul Mayer was twenty years old and living in Frankfurt, Germany, when he started to keep a journal on January 1, 1945. His Jewish father had died in Auschwitz; his sister had died when the Nazis refused to give her medical treatment.
On March 15, 1945, along with his brother Heinz, Paul Mayer headed to Central Station in Frankfurt with orders from the Nazi Party to board a train headed for a concentration camp at Derenburg, a small town deep in the Hartz Mountains. . . . ,” David Mayer writes. “The journal describes a daring escape along with his brother Heinz and two companions. They followed the train tracks out of the camp and through the mountains to the American lines. The Americans mistook them for German soldiers and shot at them. A bullet nearly killed my grandfather, hitting him square in the chest. But in his chest pocket was a textbook describing the art of blacksmithing. The textbook took the bullet. As my father put it in an interview I recorded, ‘Learning saved his life in more ways than one.’
“Although his mother raised him as a Christian, he was still considered by his home country, the country he loved, as a half-Jew. He was the same age I am now. The journal consists of two halves: the first part in Germany; the second part after he survived and came to America. . . . Time and time again my grandfather writes of how one should react to hardship and compares it to how ‘others’ tend to react. Would I make him proud with how I live? Would he see himself in me?
“Even after coming to America, learning a new language, marrying, and starting a family, my grandfather remembered and commemorated his past. He named my father Frederick after his father; he named my aunt Marianne after his sister; and in turn, my father named my brother after our grandfather, Paul Mayer.”
David will be visiting and filming Paul Mayer’s childhood home in Frankfurt, the train station where he left for the camp, the concentration camps in the Hartz Mountains, as well as old friends and other places mentioned in his grandfather’s journal. He says, “This documentary will be about what it means to try to understand a man whom I never met using only what he left behind.”
Elyse Pate is collecting oral histories, along with photographs and recipes, to create a documentary narrative essay that reflects on the nearly “sacred” importance of low country boils in the Brunswick area of coastal Georgia. Brunswick is one of the two largest port cities in Georgia (Savannah is the other), and as such, seafood plays a major role in the economy and lifestyle.
“In my family, tradition, especially any tradition involving food, is sacred. Before my grandmother’s stroke, I loved to listen to her tell stories about living in coastal Georgia, Brunswick to be exact,” Elyse Pate writes. “My father grew up there, and I spent much time as a child both in the town and on the beaches of nearby St. Simon’s Island. Being a very social lady, many of my grandmother’s tales centered on social events, and many of these events, in turn, centered on food.
“One key event is called a low country boil, which is also the name of the dish that stars at these gatherings. Low country boils may also be referred to as a Frogmore stew or a Beaufort stew, after the low-country towns in South Carolina from which they originated. . . . The basic ingredients of the dish are sausage, corn on the cob, potatoes, spices, and shrimp. Like the event it graces, the recipe is flexible and open to interpretation, so the cook adds or removes elements. Other common ingredients include crab legs, onions, and lemons. The host either provides everything or holds a potluck-style boil.”
“Like all traditions, it is likely that low country boils have changed and are constantly changing to fit the times. Without documentation, the changes in tradition, while not necessarily negative, often mean the loss of a specific variation. My grandmother, for example, can no longer tell her stories. They have never been recorded, a fact that I greatly regret. In collecting these personal narratives, I hope to maintain an open mind, knowing that I will be led in unanticipated directions, and that by documenting the stories of ordinary people these traditions will not be forgotten.”