Divided Families: Profile of Filmmaker/Physician Jason Ahn
"It just started off as an idea and passion," says filmmaker and physician Jason Ahn, 30, of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"Divided Families," the documentary that Ahn co-directed and co-produced, tells the stories of Korean American immigrants who have been separated from family members in North Korea for more than fifty years as a result of the Korean War, which divided the country into north and south. Through recording their histories, Ahn seeks to raise awareness of divided families and to advocate for reunion.
Early childhood experiences may have instilled in Jason a strong sense of social justice and a desire to advocate for the Korean American community. Ahn recalls his early childhood in Los Angeles' Koreatown: "My family didn't have much growing up. We just lived month to month. There were a lot of homeless people on the streets. I remember the ice cream truck coming by and that would be our treat for the day. Even though we didn't have much, there was a Korean American community, and we went to church and felt supported."
When the L.A. riots, or Sa-I-Gu, occurred in 1992, Ahn was nine years old. "We would go to the HK Market for groceries and I remember ajussis with rifles on the rooftop and National Guard troops patrolling the area. I remember watching the news and seeing people breaking into stores, looting, lighting things on fire," he says.
As a U.C. Berkeley student, Ahn became involved in Poetry for the People, where he became immersed in storytelling through poetry. He also enrolled in a medical anthropology class taught by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a renowned expert in the field, where he learned about ethnographic inquiry and the art of interviewing while conducting a project on traditional Chinese medicine.
After graduating with a dual degree in history and molecular cell biology, Ahn was awarded a Fulbright to Korea. He conducted an ethnographic study of structural violence and health among North Korean defectors living in South Korea. During this project, he was able to meet his mother's cousin who was a defector.