American Seoul

Zeke Anders is a self described storyteller, filmmaker, director, and photographer. Zeke grew up in Detroit; his mother was a school teacher, his father owned his own casket distribution company. Growing up during the MTV music video era, Zeke was drawn to the high energy videos, and turned his attention to  filmmaking. While still in highschool, he  was recruited by Detroit Public Television to direct and produce segments and became “the youngest creative producer for the largest independent ad agency in the world.” Zeke later moved to LA and focused on writing and directing, winning numerous awards for his work, including top honors at Houston Worldfest, New York Festival, and the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Zeke’s story sounds like the American dream: a boy with humble beginnings works hard, moves to LA ,and becomes pretty successful. But Zeke’s journey to success is even more remarkable when you find out he was found in an alleyway in Korea and spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage. With all of his filmmaking and directing experience, Zeke finally decided to turn the camera on himself and tell his story. He started a vlog series on Youtube titled American Seoul in which he shares his personal experience growing up as a Korean American adoptee in Detroit. Zeke’s story is fascinating, and his vlogs are thoughtful and powerful. Watch the first episode of Zeke’s vlog below and read on for our interview!

You mentioned in your first vlog that you were found on the street with no name or no identifying information like a birth certificate. What is your official birthday and who chose it?

Tracing my lineage is next to impossible making my personal history unknown. I was found on the streets, an alley, by the local authorities and taken to a Catholic orphanage. Where and when exactly is unknown. It may have actually been in the city of Busan… but have no evidence to support that idea – just a hunch because as a child, I remember hearing my parents mentioning that name.  Assuming that the orphanage had a doctor, it was that person who gave me my “official” birthdate of December 4th.  It’s probably an accurate estimation… although feasibly a few weeks off.

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What is the story of your name? Were you named in the orphanage or did parents name you when you were adopted?

I came into the orphanage without a name and so they assigned me a name temporary name (just for paperwork, etc.). My Korean name was Soo Kim Chang. However, once adopted, my parents renamed me.

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Left to right: Zeke’s aunt, mother, grandfather and father

You revealed in one of your early vlogs that you grew up an only child and your parents have passed away. What is your family unit? Are you close with relatives?

I don’t know why my parents did not have any biological children… perhaps they were unable or maybe it was by choice. As a result, I really enjoyed growing up as an only child. For me, it taught me independence, assertiveness and creativity among other things. My extended family is small. Growing up I spent 99% of holidays, summer vacations, etc. with my mother’s side of the family… mostly her sister and their father. I would visit cousins and extended relatives on occasion but not very often.

My mother passed away when I was in High School and my father passed away six years ago. He and I had become close since it was just the two of us and am tremendously grateful that I had the time I had with him. I’ve really only stayed connected to my aunt who continues to live in Michigan.

Funny enough, I am married to an ‘only-child’ who also has a very small family. We have two adopted black shelter cats and we pretty much just keep to ourselves! lol

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Have you ever gone back to South Korea? If not, do you have plans to?

I have never been back to South Korea and would like to very much. One day for sure. I remember as a child, my parents talking about taking a trip to Korea after my high school graduation – it was going to be this big event. During my teen years I was fortunate enough to have started traveling to different countries like, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, etc.

My mother battled cancer through the majority of my childhood (Elementary through Jr. High) and finally passed away during the summer of entering my senior year. Obviously life took a different course. I absolutely love to travel and experiencing different cultures. S. Korea would definitely be a “homecoming” of sorts and I look forward to the day when that happens.

Do you think it’s easier to share details of your family life now that your parents are gone?

I don’t think sharing my story is any easier now that my parents are gone… in fact, it’s probably harder only because with my early history they would’ve been helpful filling in the details making the vlogs a little more complete.

I’m proud to share my story and family to you. They were wonderful, loving parents and honorable people who always put others before themselves. They always supported my interests… it was in High School where I got the bug to become a filmmaker and they were behind me 100%. Even after my mother passed, my father continued to support my career path and I know they would both be pleased with the vlog series and its success.

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Zeke and his mother

What was your motivation for sharing your adoption story and starting your vlog? What do you hope to accomplish?

I don’t even really remember giving this idea much thought, I just remember doing it. As a freelance director I was in-between jobs and never like sitting still so I thought what type of project can I do that is quick and simple? A vlog!

Throughout the years whenever people would discover I’m adopted, they were always amazed by my circumstances. So much so I would often joke about it. The idea for the vlog series just clicked. I set out to make the vlogs intimate and straightforward – no frills, no fancy editing. Black & White seemed like a great visual style while leaving all the archival photos/footage in color.

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Hard at work

What’s next for you? You are clearly a talented and accomplished filmmaker. Do you have any other adoption related projects in the works?

This is just the beginning! I’m developing a longer format television/doc series, of the same name [American Seoul] where I interview fellow Korean/American adoptees, their family/friends across the country and have them share their stories and experiences. I’ve realized by sharing mine and having so many people reach out to me that a lot of our stories are very similar and yet so different. It’s an interesting ‘character’ study on the effects of adoption and just how each of us have grown to become integrated in American society and yet, for some feel quite disconnected. Some feel they’re not Korean enough to be accepted as their own and yet, they’re not “American” because of their physical appearance. Another issue is the self-identity crisis every adoptee goes through… not only as a teen but even in adult life.

I’m currently writing a feature-length screenplay about a young Korean/American adoptee who travels back to Seoul to find his biological parents. While there, he befriends an older American tourist on a very different journey. Each discovers they need each other to find what they’re looking for.

I also just completed a TEDTalk-type lecture+curation for the Detroit Institute of Arts on the art of the vlog, truly the first of its kind.  My show, “Vlogzilla”, delves into defining a vlog, why people vlog and can it truly be an art form?  I curate more than 100 vlogs from around the world and finished the evening by screening “American Seoul”.  The presentation was a success!

I continue to freelance as a director/filmmaker working for ad agencies and corporations directing their branded content videos/commercials and ads.

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To see more of Zeke’s work, visit www.zekeanders.com

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Interview with Catana Tully

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Split at the Root by Catana Tully is a memoir that spans many years and several different countries. Catana was born in Guatemala in the 1940s and was adopted by a German family. Her German mother, or “Mutti” as she called her, raised Catana to speak German, Spanish, and English and introduced her to a world of privilege, including boarding school in Jamiaca and studies at Cambridge University in England.

After Catana earned a certificate from Cambridge, her plan was to work as an interpreter in Germany. But her plan suddenly changed when she was discovered  at an international craft fair.  When Catana realized how much money she could make posing behind the camera for a few hours, she quickly enrolled in modeling school. Once Catana finished modeling school, she was immediately booked for fashion shows and landed her first acting role. Catana’s detour into modeling and acting turned out to be a successful career move.

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Catana as a model

While she was living in Munich, Catana was set up on a blind date by a friend. She met Fred Tully, an American actor, and they eventually married. When Fred and Catana welcomed a son, and the couple decided to move to California. In America, Catana had to face new issues of identity. She felt accepted by neither blacks nor whites, and her life of privilege suddenly didn’t mean anything in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Living in California, Catana began to question everything she thought she knew about herself, including her marriage and her upbringing.

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Catana and Fred

Catana started to sort out her feelings through counseling and began examining the relationships she had with both of her mothers. Her counselor encouraged Catana to find and connect with her birthfather, which answered many of Catana’s questions, but also revealed painful family secrets.  In the end, Catana became aware of the tremendous pain caused by her adoption and started to understand her identity as a mother, daughter, and black woman. Read on for our interview!

You begin Split at the Root with a picture of you as a baby with Mutti, your German “mother” and end the book with a picture of you with Rosa, your birthmother. How did these two women shape your own identity as a mother?

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Catana with “Mutti” & Rosa

Very interesting question! I don’t know about shaping my identity as a mother, but I, too, was very protective and controlling. Mutti, had been super protective of me and, until she left me in Munich, controlled all my decisions. I sometimes jokingly tell my son that he probably needs a shrink, being that he had been so closely watched as a child. But he says that it was great because he always felt very secure and protected.

So I figure this over-protectiveness came as a result of having always been under supervision myself. I must have internalized Mutti’s and Rosa’s fears. Mutti feared Rosa might steal me, and I must have somehow absorbed Rosa’s anguish at having “lost” me. So, yes, both women shaped the fear aspect that translated into the way I raised my son.

I appreciated that you included your counseling sessions. You shared valuable conversations about your healing from being raised apart from your birth mother and from the damage caused by secrets that were hidden from you growing up. Your search for identity was inspiring and showed that it can a lifelong process. What was the hardest truth you had to confront in your therapy sessions?

Another good one. I still struggle with my identity but I know it, and so am able to identify the insecurity. The good thing is that my self-image is no longer bruised. One of the hardest things was having to recover lost memories of Rosa. Another was hearing from my sisters how much my mother suffered at having lost me. Also, of course, my having rejected her in such a heartless manner. I find it is an interesting thing with adoptees: I believe we are quite insensitive. Perhaps because of the injury at having been separated from our mother.

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You described playing the role of Eliza, a slave, for the German production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. You wrote that you struggled with that role because you had no idea how to “portray an enslaved woman, had a vague idea of modern slavery, and had no Black heroes, role models, male or female.” Who are your black heroes and role models today?

Today, there are too many to count, but here are a few that come to mind immediately: Ivan van Sertima, was a history professor at Rutgers, whose books They Came Before Columbus, and Africa and Europe in the Middle Ages impress me tremendously. Then Cheikh Anta Diop’s work is fascinating to me. Among the young writers whose works I admire: Edwige Danticat, (Haitian American) and Chimamanda Adichie (Nigerian). Add… all the African American classic writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians… There are a lot!

I was fascinated with your scenes of moving to LA, and experiencing what it meant to be Black in America. You wrote that you “knew nothing about the African American culture, where being Black was infinitely more complex than simple being dark.” Why do you think being Black in America is so complex?

The complex aspect of race in America lies in the fact that the dominant American society wants it to be that way. Racism in the US is an institutionalized phenomenon. On the surface it might appear that things have improved since slavery. However, a huge percentage of the Black population continues to be excluded from what purports to be a democratic society. I mean the fact that huge numbers of young Black men are incarcerated for petty crimes that do not affect other ethnic groups. Once they are released, they continue to be ostracized for having been incarcerated and are not allowed to vote. This is clearly institutionalized racism. And, it’s a huge problem that’s just not addressed. The important ones in our society (the ones that could change the laws) seem to have a blind eye to this tragedy.

You discussed how Mutti colonized your mind. She taught you how to dress, speak, and act, and you internalized her European ideals. Do you think her colonization was intentional? Can colonization ever be unintentional?

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Mutti was a product of her times; and those were Victorian. Dark people were seen as inferior and powerless. (Has not changed that much, really.) She expected me to assimilate into European society thus, absorbing European culture, she figured (correctly,) would facilitate my inclusion into the dominant White society. (That is also what White parents of dark adoptees feel today.) What Mutti did not realize, is that had I been given access to my mother and her people, I would have gained respect for my race, understand what my family’s struggles were, respect their values, and be pleased that they were poor, yet noble people. That would have been fair, and would have helped me gain a balanced sense of self. Most important: I would not have had the damaging issues related to a bruised and negative self image.

Do you anticipate writing any other books?

I plan to write essays addressing issues adoptees grapple with that no one seems to appreciate… including adoptees. I [also] have a children’s book in mind. It’s about history. I’ll feel blessed if I can start researching for it by the end of this year!

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 Dr. Catana Tully is an author, a retired professor, and adoption counseling expert. She offers to help both parents and their children tackle the complexities of adoption. To find out more about Catana’s services or read more about Split at the Root, visit www.cantanatully.com