Imagine filmmaker Joseph Juhn’s surprise when his first encounter in Havana is with a very unexpected taxi driver: a middle-aged Korean Cuban woman. This fateful meeting eventually nags at Juhn’s curiosity more than mojitos or cigars, resulting in a remarkable documentary about the taxi driver’s father, an unsung hero with a larger-than-life name: Jeronimo Lim Kim. By tracing Jeronimo’s journey, Juhn probes Korean diaspora at its smallest and most farflung, affirming national identity while also wondering exactly what that means.
Mixing the easygoing pace of a travelogue with unpredictable twists, the film finds Jeronimo in interviews with scholars, Jeronimo’s lively family, present day Korean Cubans, and a treasure trove of archival footage. Handsome, charismatic Jeronimo is a son of slaves turned law student, revolutionary, compadre of Fidel Castro, and possible spy. We also meet prodigal son Jeronimo, who never imagined the liberated Korea he later visits as a long lost hero. And older, spiritual Jeronimo, who travels the island in a slowly crumbling car, mobilizing Korean Cubans for language schools, a written history, and official recognition.
Juhn also traces the uncanny afterlife of the little-known history of Korean slavery in Latin America, a topic briefly explored in his Letter to My Children (SDAFF ‘18). This micro-community descended from a singular group of 300 Koreans who fled Mexico for Cuba in 1921, leaving surprising reunions wherever Juhn turns. In one moment he gets pulled down a dark alleyway by a stranger eager to introduce him to an old man singing the Korean anthem, bitterly refusing to acknowledge his now-divided homeland. At the original coastal landing point, he meets a group of Korean Cuban teens singing arirang along with K-pop. All of which serve as living proof of Jeronimo’s oft-claimed personhood: 100% Korean and 100% Cuban–the poetic mathematics of diaspora.