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Film: Chen's joyful ingenuity driven by love for family

In making a short documentary of her grandfather's immigrant story, Michelle Kuo found echoes of her own more recent 'coming to Australia' experience.

Chen in Australia www.youtube.com

Growing up, Michelle Kuo was never close to her Grandpa, Yi-Ceng Chen. The distance between her home in Taiwan and his home in Sydney meant that she didn't grow up surrounded by the tastes and smells of his cooking, and only got glimpses of his lively personality.

"The only contact with my grandparents was on the phone. Every Chinese New Year, we would call," she said. "We were not close at all, not close." It was only when Kuo moved to Sydney for high school six years ago that she realised she and her grandpa were more similar than she'd thought. She discovered that there was plenty to learn from this man, who emigrated to Australia almost 40 years ago with nothing but his family and a determination to succeed.

"I am very interested in how they could live here for such a long time without really getting into the community. I wanted to know what their life was like, without help," Kuo said, in explaining her motivation for making the short documentary on Chen's immigrant story. "There was no help."

Kuo has also had to navigate living in a country where she isn't fluent in the native language, and having grown up hearing her grandpa's story of running a thriving restaurant for 12 years, despite knowing almost no English, she felt it was an important tale to share.

Chen family album

Gathering for the regular family dinner: Michelle Kuo, back row, second from left: Chen, back row, second from right, still loves to cook for them all regularly.

"Even if I tried so hard, trying to understand your language… your jokes, I still don't feel… involved. That's why I think immigrant stories should be published, to show how hard (tough) we are, and to show a bit of compassion" because, she said, it's "f---ing hard!"

Chen's story of struggle and success is one shared by many Australian immigrants; Kuo's film is a celebration of the strength and tenacity her grandfather exhibited in starting over in Australia.

* Michelle Kuo created Chen in Australia for UNSW's Documentary and Non Fiction Cinemas course (ARTS3066).

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