Memories to Light: Asian American Home Movies is a project that explores the historical, cultural, and artistic richness of home movies made by Asian American families on small gauge film: 8, Super 8, and 16mm. The Center for Asian American Media digitizes the films and then can do a number of things, such as work with members of the family to share them online, or present compilations drawn from the collections in theaters, often with musical accompaniment, or commission filmmakers to make new works from the collections. Memories to Light offers the opportunity to preserve intimate family memories while building an important history of Asian Americans.
This month, Comcast on Demand airs the home movie of Dawn Bohulano Mabalon and her family. The film is edited by John Liau with music by Memories to Light Project Manager Davin Agatep.
“CAAM started the project in recognition of the fact that Asian Americans are largely absent from mainstream American media, at least in terms of authentic images as opposed to stereotypes,” said CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong. “And this is especially true for the decades in which home movies flourished (1930s through the 1970s). Fundamentally, a project like this reminds us that every family’s story matters, and that we are all enriched in the sharing.”
Last month, Comcast aired Brian Gee’s family home movie also by Liau. In case you missed it, here it is:
Home videos serve as a way to keep, treasure and save our precious moments, from holidays and birthdays to special trips. Memories to Light also focuses on home movies as a tool to catalogue and create a collective Asian American history—that of everyday people.
CAAM’s Memories to Light archive now has seventeen families total and over fourteen hours of footage—no small feat given that the project has been active for two years. The archive also has a diversity of ethnicity: Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and Thai families can all count themselves as part of the Memories to Light project. The archive has been built mostly by families participating in this project by donating their footage as well as helping us to identify different aspects of the footage. As a result, CAAM works closely with these families to make short videos featuring their family stories.
One of these families is that of Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, a professor at San Francisco State University and author of Little Manila is in the Heart about Filipino Americans in Stockton, CA. Mabalon donated 12 films to the Memories to Light project for CAAM to archive and to make a short film about her family and her experience in Stockton. She got involved in the Memories to Light project through Memories to Light Project Manager Davin Agatep, who was her former history student at SF State. Dawn’s knowledge of and connection to Filipino American history in Stockton made her a perfect participant in this project, and luckily, she had some home movies to contribute. The film, commissioned by CAAM and made by John Liau, talks about how Stockton was a hub for Filipino American labor activism, with many who worked in the farm fields. Folks like Carlos Bulosan and Larry Itliong came through Dawn’s grandfather’s Filipino restaurant in Stockton.
Mabalon’s maternal grandfather and his family came to California in 1952, working as a labor contractor in Tracy, 20 miles south of Stockton. Her grandmother worked in the fields, as a camp cook, in the local canneries, and as the first Filipina American teacher for the Tracy Unified School District. Her family was involved in the local Filipino American community, recording community events throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
The Bohulano footage is not only a portrait of a loving family but a glimpse the larger Filipino American community from the 1950s to the 1970s. Images of downtown Stockton as well as the more residential neighborhoods paint a picture of a rich and beautiful community. You can view the entire Bohulano archive here or catch the edited film this month on Comcast on Demand.
Once the footage has been digitized, CAAM returns the original reels as well as a DVD copy to the family. The footage is then shown in many different capacities. CAAM has worked on a commissioned film by Mark Decena entitled The War Inside, but CAAM has also presented the archived footage at events like CAAMFest and Home Movie Day, which is October 18 this year, and various film festival screenings. At CAAMFest 2014, we screened two different family home movies. One was from the Chin family and their trip to India in 1968.
If you or your family would like to digitize and archive your home movies, please fill out an application form here. Email CAAM at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our FAQ on our website. CAAM is always looking for more films to be added to the archive.
—Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt
Main image: Dawn Bohulano Mabalon in a home movie. Still courtesy of the Bohulano family.
This is crossposted at Comcast Xfinity TV.