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Korean and Chinese Elders Come Together for a Night of Harvest Festival Storytelling

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A elderly Korean woman in glasses looks on with a wistful expression on her face.
A Korean elder listens to one the personal stories shared at a previous Ssi Ya Gi event. The Bay Area and Los Angeles–based organization works with Korean elders to preserve and share their food memories. (Courtesy of Hardy Wilson)

For the past two years, Ssi Ya Gi has been fine-tuning its unique program for community outreach: The organization’s volunteers have met with dozens of Korean elders in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, listening as they shared stories about their most cherished food memories — the boiled whale meat sold in one elder’s hometown, or the deliciously “shiny and greasy” rice that another elder harvested from his family’s rice farm.

Then they’ve turned those stories into zines, preserving them as a record of history and a gorgeous art object that can be shared with the next generation.

It’s proved to be a winning formula for an organization born out of a desire to alleviate the profound loneliness that so many monolingual, homebound seniors in the Korean community experienced during the height of the pandemic: As it turns out, there’s no better way to connect with a person than to really listen to their life story.

Now, Ssi Ya Gi is using its distinctive blend of food, elder outreach, oral history and DIY artmaking to build bridges with another community: Chinese seniors in Oakland Chinatown. On Thursday, Sept. 14, elders from the Bay Area’s Chinese and Korean communities will come together at Chinatown’s Lincoln Square Park for a night of cross-cultural story sharing and food.

Co-sponsored by the AAPI community–focused art nonprofit Cut Fruit Collective and the Oakland Chinatown Oral History Project, the event will celebrate both Chuseok (the Korean harvest festival) and Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.


First and foremost, it will be a night of storytelling, as the seniors share their personal — and often delicious — memories of Chuseok and Mid-Autumn Festival. In advance of the event, the three participating organizations worked with Asian American artists to create five new zines based on the Chuseok and Mid-Autumn Festival stories of Korean and Chinese elders in Oakland. The zines are trilingual (translated into English, Korean and Chinese), with titles like Lee Lee’s Mid-Autumn Festival and Syeon Pyeon With Love. Attendees can receive copies of the zines in exchange for a donation to support the community work of Ssi Ya Gi and Cut Fruit Collective.

Five illustrated zines with Korean, English and Chinese text, shown against a blue background.
The five new zines preserve the food memories of Korean and Chinese seniors in Oakland. The stories have been translated into English, Korean and Chinese. (Courtesy of Cut Fruit Collective)

There will be a hands-on component as well. Ssi Ya Gi is creating a food altar, inspired by the charye table that’s traditionally set during Chuseok as a memorial for one’s ancestors. Attendees will be invited to write or draw their own food memory, or a memory of a loved one, on a wishing ribbon that they can place on the altar. In exchange, they’ll get a sweet reward: a Cantonese-style mooncake, songpyeon (steamed rice cake shaped like a half moon) or mungwort bean powder injeolmi (another kind of steamed rice cake) — all treats traditionally served during the Chinese and Korean harvest festivals.

Last fall, Ssi Ya Gi hosted a similar cross-cultural feast at Cafe Ohlone, built around the Korean and Ohlone communities’ mutual appreciation of ingredients such as acorn and fernbrake. When I spoke to the organization’s founders at the time, they stressed that they wanted the dinner itself to be a gift to the elders who participated in the project — a way to thank them for passing on their hard-earned wisdom and their memories, which would otherwise be lost to history. Likewise, the Korean and Chinese elders who participated this time will break bread together at a more intimate private listening supper prior to the public celebration.

This time, afterwards, the rest of us will have a chance to thank them too.

The Chuseok and Mid-Autumn Festival story sharing event will take place on Thursday, Sept. 14, 5–8 p.m. at Lincoln Square Park (261 11th St.) in Oakland Chinatown. The free event is part of Oakland Chinatown’s Lincoln Summer Nights series. Online RSVP is optional.

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