A new beginning

By: Daniel Céspedes Góngora


“And the inhabitants showed us all kinds of attention, because because of the rain that was falling and the cold, they lit a bonfire and welcomed us all.”

Acts 28.2


When in Minari1 (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020) young father Jacob (Steven Yeun) tells his young son David (Alan Kim): “Every year, 30,000 Koreans immigrate to the United States,” the viewer could be alarmed and look for the latest map of that country’s population census to check at least at first – the number of Asians inserted into the American nation.

It ended the 1990s when then-President Bill Clinton spoke out in favor of legal emigration. He spoke of the role of Latin America and other regions of the world in enriching the population and culture of North America and also referred to Asia as an undeniable force that has always shoeed the industrial character of the “house of exile” economy, as José Martí would call the land that took him in.

However, the phenomenon of immigration has been very debatable for Americans themselves because it affects – in the eyes of specialists and part of the population – from so-called natural rights to high rates of religious, political and cultural crime and disloyalties. There is a fear towards foreigners, rooted by teaching from one generation to another, which promotes a xenophobic practice of discarding human beings that seems to arrive as a usurped of territory. Some forget that this modern Alexandria, with its temptation at times ungrateful to materially enrich men from all possible contexts, was built on the principles of conquest and usurpation of a land that was already of others.

Emigration was and has been a starting point for all luck and misfortune of results. This xenophobia and denial of shelter from many reproduce but do not justify shameful and hypocritical historical proceedings. Leviticus 19.34 can read: “As a natural of you you shall have the stranger who peregrine among you; and you will love them as yourself, for strangers went in the land of Egypt. I, Jehovah, your God.” But the s aspires of contempt and isolation, it is good to clarify, sometimes come from both originating and foreign. All ends are bad. With regard to the extreme, Ambrose Bierce writes in his Devil’s Dictionary is “the farthest position, in both directions, from the interlocutor”.

The interlocutor in Minari is both the Korean family that wants to placate itself in American soil and culture and the characters (people, climate, landscape…) with which he interacts in a story about family survival and cultural identity. That’s not why he gives up believing in the American dream. Settling down and asserting yourself in the new land means, for the Korean family, your response to hospitality that is somehow re-entering your lives too much. In this sense, we are not dealing with a film about impersonating a national epic. It is rather the adventure of a family representative of a generality that seeks to fit. The Haitian poet and novelist René Depestre wrote years ago: “I have always distrusted the groups of nostalgics and their quarrels who often curb in emigration the natural impulse to assimilate the values of the land of adoption.”2 Behold the fixed and conflicting covenant, of which it is not known to certain what it will hold, although it harbors hope and faith before others. Not for nothing, it is remembered in Job 31.32: “The stranger does not spend the night outside (because) to the traveler I have opened my doors.”

With the arrival of a grandmother in the wheeled house where Jacob, his wife and their two children now live, a bridge is established between the younger generation and the intermediate generation. The grandmother, who still “smells of Korea” as David manifests, is the one who links with his conversations and customs brought, the country of origin with that of protection. Isaac Chung shows scenes of preparation of typical dishes, but away from the images of a gastronomic tv show. They make the food and talk about everything in a mixture of English and Korean. For Grandma, her grandchildren are already Westernized in the American way. During the card game with her grandchildren, she, animosess, jokingly insults the players. Win over and over again, because they’re oblivious to how time goes by.

It could have been a chain of obstacles from xenophobia and cultural shock. Fortunately, it’s not. There is an interest in other matters in Minari. It is an intrafamily story, where the external landscape (both field, planting, trees, stream as economy, society, customs…) has an impact on the harmony of an immigrant group. Despite all the professional setbacks and intimate longings, coexistence and tolerance test each character. What they talk and observe, their performances, are supported by a recordable staging and before that by a script where nothing is left over. They import the new place and survive, indeed, but recognizing the value of others, the need to be in company. Surprisingly beautiful, Minari is a simple and truthful record of emigration. Ω



[1] In Korean it means water celery.

2 René Depestre: “The Reverse of Exile”, in El Correo de la Unesco, October 1996, p. 22.

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