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.