A Lot Like You:
The Culture We Inherit and the Legacies We Choose
Seattle-based filmmaker Eliaichi “Ellie” Kimaro is a mixed-race, first-generation American with a Tanzanian father and Korean mother. When Ellie was older and in an interracial relationship of her own, she wanted to better understand this world her father had left behind when he was 18. So when Dr. Kimaro moved back to Tanzania for good, Ellie followed him to make a film about this culture she would one day pass down to her kids.
What Ellie discovered on that trip – in Tanzania, in her family and in herself – is the subject of this personal award-winning documentary, A Lot Like You. As both a cultural insider and outsider, Ellie asked questions that most people who grew up on Mt Kilimanjaro would never think to ask. Much to Ellie’s surprise, the stoic women in her family opened up, telling her stories about trauma and survival that they’d never even shared with each other as sisters.
And so Ellie must reconcile this culture she’s inherited with how she defines herself today–as a woman, as an activist and, perhaps most of all, as a mother. And in doing so, she finds a way to translate her father’s Chagga culture into her own personal legacy. A Lot Like You was named Best Documentary at the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. A portion of the net proceeds from the film will help fund the construction of a girls’ dormitory at the Vunjo Secondary School in the Kimaro family village of Mwika.
Ellie worked professionally as an activist/educator/counselor on issues related to gender violence, trauma and oppression for over 12 years before leaving for Tanzania to make this film. There, sitting with her Aunts in a grass hut on the family’s farm on Mt. Kilimanjaro, she unknowingly tapped into their stories about surviving a lifetime of gender violence and abuse, the likes of which Ellie had never heard before. This talk uses the film as a springboard for opening up new avenues for dialogue, understanding and healing.
According to U.S. Census estimates, multiracial Americans have become one of the country’s fastest growing demographic groups. Ellie is a mixed-race activist/filmmaker who is in an interracial relationship of her own. The relationship between her Tanzanian father and Korean mother makes up a significant portion of the film. This talk focuses on the particular experiences of multi-cultural/multi-national families and First Generation Americans (or “Third Culture” Communities—people raised in cultures other than their parents’ native culture) that fall outside the Black/White American paradigm of interracial relationships most commonly depicted on TV.
This film intimately reveals the inter-relatedness of race, class, gender and trauma in shaping our cultural identities. How do our cultures shape our understanding of our world? How do we come to understand the cultures we are born into? How do decide what aspects of our cultures will get passed down to the next generation? And how do our own hidden truths shape our cultural legacies?
The Art of Personal Storytelling:
Originally, this documentary (titled Worlds Apart) was about Ellie’s father and his struggle to fit back in with the Tanzanian family and culture he’d left behind 40 years earlier. However, the final film (titled A Lot Like You) explores how Ellie’s own experiences, as an abuse survivor and a professional trauma counselor, uniquely prepared her to bear witness to her Aunts’ stories. We see how this simple act of sitting together and asking questions releases these women from a lifetime of pain, and inspires Ellie to dig deeper and reveal the hidden truths of her own story. What Ellie discovered on this journey from Worlds Apart to A Lot Like You is the subject of the film, and the focus of this talk.
“Thank you so much for generously making the time to share your film with our eighth graders. All of us appreciated the opportunity to learn from your experience–both of making the film and your own personal journey. Personally, I felt a deep connection with your work. Viewing the film a second time was a treat; it has so many layers–one viewing is not nearly enough to fully process it. You left us with the perfect message as we embark on our own memoir unit: The more personal the story, the more universal it is. Thank you for that.”
Language Arts Teacher
Lake Washington Girls Middle School
“Eli’s film, her experience, and its relevance to our students, was the highlight of our leadership conference, judging by the students lined up to talk to her afterwards. She unpacks culture and personal narrative, with all their complexity, in a most respectful, yet approachable and humanizing way. The lessons she shared about her own life’s journey and making A Lot Like You served as inspiration for students’ who are striving to unfold their own stories in ways that matter.”
Assistant Director, Student Activities & Multicultural Interests
“Eli Kimaro’s presentation of her documentary film, A Lot Like You, was fascinating as she took us on a journey that demonstrated how we all can’t know who we truly are until we do some delving into our past. I think along with understanding more of who Eli’s Tanzanian side was from the film, it was a push to do some searching into our own ancestry. Because often what you may think or believe to be true about yourself – other pertinent realizations to why you think or act a certain way – is rooted in who your grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles are and what they have experienced. And when you combine Eli’s easy and accessible demeanor, it made for a rich learning opportunity.”
Coordinator, Student Activities
Lewis and Clark Community College
“A Lot Like You is a movie of profound importance. It addresses issues of ethnicity, gender, gender violence, the nuclear family, cultural attitudes and race in a way that is complex and engrossing. The movie is also an aesthetic delight. Its ability to weave different stories and concepts within a very personal framework suggests an artistic creativity I have rarely seen in my 19 years of teaching film. I would highly recommend screening the full 80 minute feature as its pacing, editing, dialogue, and sound allow for a full understanding of the rich array of concepts presented by this wonderful director. Our campus was rewarded by our viewing of this film and Eliaichi made the experience transcendent with her commentary.”
Professor of Art, History and Culture
Lewis and Clark Community College
“Eli shared her truth with us so authentically that I know she inspired students in the audience to boldly stand behind their own truth. Her presentation, delivered thoughtfully and lovingly, shed a light on cultural identity and gender violence. Eli is a master story-teller who has found a unique way to share her important story. We were all enriched by our short time with her. Thank you for the gift of you!”
Joann Bautti, MPA, Assistant Director, Women’s Center
Old Dominion University
“Eli Kimaro presents a poignant and honest account of her real life experience of seeking connection to her extended family and culture, of coming face to face with the violence and trauma that she, the women in her family and women across the globe experienced that changed their lives forever and continues to impact them today.”
Buu Thai, Program Manager, Reentry Resource Center
County of Santa Clara
“A LOT LIKE YOU takes us on a personal journey into the most vulnerable corners of a family history spanning generations and continents. This layered documentary starts with a familiar exploration of mixed-race identity as the narrator searches for her roots, but brings the discussion to surprising levels of personal and political self-awareness. Fresh and inspired, tender and uncommonly smart, A LOT LIKE YOU triumphs as an exemplary work of first-person documentary for the 21st century.”
Jury Statement, Winner, Best Documentary
30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
“Eli Kimaro has made a luminous and thoughtful film. It is a fascinating and moving exploration of how the stories we tell (and perhaps most importantly, the stories we don’t tell) shape our sense of our histories and identities, and how we choose to pass our stories on to our children and why.
Ms. Kimaro allows us to travel with her as she seeks to create an ―authentic‖ record of her father’s people for her daughter. We see how her journey leads to uncovering a piece of the family story that had never been spoken in her family before, and how this revelation results in her profound and courageous decision to reveal the truth of her own life in new ways.
Hearing these previously untold stories leads Kimaro and her audience to rethink the meaning and complexity of all that has come before; and to understand how her (and our) truth connects her (and us) to the women of her family in a way that transcends generations, cultures and distances. In doing so, this film provocatively reminds us of both the power of story telling and of speaking that which has been unspoken.”
Margaret Hobart, Ph.D., Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
“This documentary is so powerful and so meaningful. Not only does it get to the core of fundamental issues that we see in this world, it is so sincere and real/raw. Amazing… It has the conversation between generations, across cultures, and ultimately, portrays the individual truths (and not just yours, but your aunts’ as well). It has a conversation about identity, relationships, racism, sexism, violence and more. I simply cannot imagine a better way for this film to have turned out…”
Ankita Patel, Esq.
“A Lot Like You highlights generational abuse, the impact of unspoken trauma on the ongoing cycles of trauma – how it shapes generations – and what it means to be in relationship with family and culture who have engaged in,or been complicit in,that trauma. Eliaichi does a beautiful job of not wrapping things up neatly and showing the complexity of loving people through pain, secrets and differences.
Of course additionally, it’s a beautiful piece about identity, history, contradiction, and migration…”
Vassilisa Johri, MSW
“My first reaction is that it’s very compelling material, a really emblematic postcolonial, post-globalization, and postmodern story that is timely in each of these ways.
I particularly liked the way in which A Lot Like You personalizes the emergent tension between cultural relativist or postcolonial sensibilities on the one hand and the notion of universal human rights on the other. This is one of the defining questions of our time: how do we embrace/embody the values of the various declarations on human rights without re-engaging in modernist or colonial projects? It’s a fraught problem for a time of global cultural diffusion and awareness.”
Aron Hsiao, PhD Candidate, Managing Editor, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society