By Jenny Lee
Heaps of fabrics and colorful quilts surround a small group of women who are engrossed in discussion – a discussion so fervent that it could last for days. Some wear hijabs while others have indigo dyed silk scarves draped around their necks. The women bring different cultural backgrounds and distinct ideas and opinions to the table, causing minor conflicts at times. Yet they have gathered at a Lincoln Square church to share a journey; their passion for knitting.
These knitting enthusiasts are refugees from several different countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal and Congo. As part of Loom Chicago, a social enterprise of the Catholic Charities refugee resettlement program, they gather every Tuesday to share designs, burnish their skills, socialize and make friends. Most importantly, they gather together to knit their way out of the grief and fear stemming from the harrowing experiences in their home countries.
By Jenny Lee and Ya Zhou
Vulgar, immoral and unhealthy. That is how the Chinese government views homosexuality, and that stance became more apparent after the release of a new set of guidelines by one of the main media censorship bodies last December.
Reflecting that homosexuality impairs public morality and social stability, the eight-page document issued by The China Television Drama Production Industry Association (CTPIA) prohibits Chinese TV broadcasters from running any content with a theme related to gays or any depiction thereof. The new rules referred directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at an annual national forum on literature and arts two years earlier, in which he stressed the social role of art. That speech was not released to the public for a year after it was delivered.
The regulation, translated here into English, states: “No television programs should display abnormal sexual relationships and behaviors, such as incest, homosexuality, sexual perversion, sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual violence.” Extramarital affairs, one-night stands and underage love are also included in the long list of banned content. It is not clear if the regulation goes so far as to prohibit discussions of those issues.
By Jenny Lee
A burst of amber light slices through the darkness, introducing Christina Seo and another improv actress on stage exchanging dialogue. Coming up with the funniest lines possible, Seo slowly gains confidence and comfort from the guffaws of the audience. Everything seems well underway until her white counterpart looks at Seo, who is about to take bites out of a hamburger, and says, “Is this dog meat?” The lights go down and silence soon engulfs the small, open theater space.
That scene, which took place in an improv show five years ago, still traumatizes the 24-year-old Korean-American. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Seo is as uncomfortable as Americans may be with the dog eating culture of Korea – the controversial practice that is enjoyed only by a small proportion of the population.
“After that scene, all I could think was ‘I’m going to work my ass off and make sure that I never work with this girl again,’” Seo says. “Being Korean-American has worked in both good and bad ways. The bad is bad.”
Text by Jenny Lee
Video by Xiao Lyu
Clad in orange jumpsuits, a group of high school students carrying large suitcases trudged onto the center stage. Heads down with hands, feet and waists shackled, they took a seat on their suitcases while two girls dressed as nuns slithered through the “criminals” and settled in front of them.
“Outside, the deportation bus looks like just a regular coach, but on the inside, Plexiglas separates us from the men and women,” one of the nuns narrated in a somber tone. “You can’t walk down the aisle. You can’t just touch them on the shoulder to say goodbye.”
Desperate, one of the deportees called to the nuns in Spanish: “Please tell my wife that I love her and take care of my children.”
By Jenny Lee and Ya Zhou
Disoriented by the constant tug-of-war in China over homosexuality, gay Chinese Americans are looking for support in the United States, where same-sex marriage is legal.
What they are facing is the conflict between their gender identity and the traditional values their parents hold, but with family lying at at the core of their culture, abandoning their parents is rarely an option. A tug-of-war in the family can easily turn personal and painful.
By Jenny Lee
Korean-Americans in Chicago and suburban Cook County can no longer ascribe their low participation in elections to what usually is the biggest challenge for many minority language speakers – reading and speaking in English.
Prior to the 2016 Presidential election, The Chicago Board of Election and The Cook County Clerk decided to supply Korean-language sample ballots and bilingual election judges in 23 precincts heavily concentrated with Korean-Americans including Northbrook, Glenview, Morton Grove, Niles, Skokie and Des Plaines.
The decisions came in an effort to expand access to the electoral process for eligible Korean-Americans – U.S. citizens ages 18 or older – and to facilitate more than 14,000 already registered Korean-Americans with translation services.