The Korean Che Guevara
On July 25th, a warm Thursday evening, at 7:00 PM, the Korean Cultural Center hosted a private screening of Jerónimo: Untold Tales of Koreans in Cuba, an independent, feature-length documentary on the lives of Jerónimo, his family, and his community: Korean Cubans. The film was both crowd-funded through the film’s official site as well as sponsored by producers such as Roy Choi (CEO of Kollaboration), who arrived to give a short foreword and introduce the director, Joseph Juhn. Juhn thanked his audience shortly after, and spoke on his own experiences directing and shooting the film, expanding on the introduction of the documentary.
The film’s synopsis, written by Director Juhn, reads as follows:
“On December 28, 2015, I went to Cuba for one week of backpacking. To my surprise, the first Cuban I met was a middle-aged Asian lady, who was waiting for me at the airport to transport me to a hostel I booked only several days before. As we hit the road, I got curious and asked about her ethnic background. She told me that she was a fourth-generation Korean Cuban. Right then and there I knew that this trip was meant for something much larger than cigar-smoking and mojito-drinking.
Having always been interested in the notion of the Korean Diaspora – Koreans outside of Korea forming their own communities while retaining their identity – I was intrigued and excitedly asked many questions. Welcoming such curiosity, the lady, Patricia Lim, invited me to her family’s place for the next day, to meet with her mother, son, brother and other extended family members. Needless to say, this visit was the beginning of a life-changing experience.
Patricia’s mother, Cristina, then 87, sat me down and brought out dozens of photo albums, sharing with me an epic tale of the family’s history. Cristina’s husband, Jeronimo Lim, who had passed away 10 years earlier, was a revolutionary fighter in the Cuban revolution. He went to law school with Fidel Castro and later worked with Che Guevara in the new Cuban government. Yes, ‘unbelievable’ is the right word.
As I was listening to these adventures, I became overwhelmed with such a sense of conviction that this story had to be shared with the world – particularly those in Korea and Korean communities around the world.
So, I decided to make a feature-length documentary about the Lim family and Koreans in Cuba at large. In August 2016, I returned to Cuba for two weeks with a wonderful film crew of five.
We met with over one-hundred Korean Cubans and interviewed over thirty of them to hear their accounts of history. It was a trip that changed my life for certain and I can’t wait to share the untold stories of Koreans in Cuba with the public.”
To film the documentary, Juhn actually left his job as a lawyer in New York, something touched on early in the film through a narrative mode, portraying him checking his watch amidst the crowds in a business suit. Viewers were greatly impressed with his dedication, one giving “a lot of credit to the director for leaving his safe job and pursuing his passion,” a sentiment echoed by the entire audience present throughout the Q&A that followed shortly after the screening.
Audience members were even able to relate to growing up as Koreans in South America. Having immigrated from Argentina with his parents, one viewer, Jeonmo Yang, found that “tracing back the roots of the father…was very insightful, because you could see how they appreciate actually being Korean,” having reflected on the identity aspect of the film. Another viewer, Sophia Kim, thought of the Koreans around her when she grew up in Mexico. “They did have a lot of trouble forming the Korean association like the Korean Cubans did…It brought back a lot of memories…”
Both Yang and Kim thought of their family as well. “When I go home, I’m going to give my father a big hug, because I have more respect for my father and all that he had to go through, especially when…racism back then was a lot more severe,” said Yang. Kim thought of her daughters in college, wishing they “were [t]here to see the movie, because they always hear my stories, but they didn’t…see how Koreans in South America…settled down.”
Rachel Kim, Grade 12
Gretchen Whitney High School