By Annisa Phillip, March 23, 2021
"Now it's kind of cool being Korean because of BTS and Parasite (2019)"

A conversation with Joseph Juhn, director of Jeronimo

“If you go to Wikipedia and punch in the world's least diverse country, it shows a list of 159 countries with number 1 being the most diverse and 159 being the least. South Korea, where I grew up, is ranked as 158".

Joseph Juhn was born in Minneapolis, MN but grew up in Korea from ages 3 - 18. He returned to the U.S. for high school and that’s when he began to feel his identity shift. He explained how growing up in Korea solidified his identity as Korean first and how he was a part of the majority. But upon returning to the U.S., he learned what it meant to be a minority. 

The lack of diversity Joseph faced in Korea, is what led to the intense culture shock and identity crisis felt when he returned to the U.S. He described to me, the four stages he went through in order to become more comfortable with his identity. 

After college, Joseph lived in China for half a year and that was when he was exposed to other Korean Diasporic communities. “I went from being a Korean, to a Korean American, to being a part of the larger Korean diaspora”. Joseph believes that there is power to be found in having to balance multiple identities. “An advantage of being a member of a diaspora, immigrant, or minority, is that we are always constantly clashing two or more values and ideals as a result of our existence. It is definitely a struggle for me, but more a positive struggle than a negative one”.

I asked him what goals he has with telling the story of Jeronimo, Joseph broke them down into two motives. The first is to challenge the Korean people in South Korea, to start thinking about the existence of Koreans outside of Korea. The second is to empower members of the Korean diaspora to claim their Korean Ethinic identity. Jeronimo was chosen as the muse of this film because, “I felt like he’s someone who 100% embraced his Cuban identity as well as 100% his Korean identity”.

We circled back to the identity crisis he faced when he moved back to the U.S. ”Almost 20 years ago, when I came back to the U.S. for high school, it wasn’t cool to be Korean at all people didn't know where it was.. My friends and I used to be really ashamed of being Korean American. There was a sense of shame culture and victimhood found in renouncing part of who they were because it wasn’t cool. I want to empower that generation to say, hey it’s okay. You can wholeheartedly accept who you are and that’s going to make your existence, all the more worthy and meaningful”. 

Jeronimo will be a part of the third week of the festival. You can also sign up for the talk back with Joseph Juhn here: