Betty Yu

Intimate / Distant

Intimate / Distant is an interactive, Web-based documentary project. It tells my family’s immigrant stories, which span multiple generations, through video, photographs, mixed-media collages, and archival materials.

The project features short video vignettes and images that provide a portal into my family’s journey, beginning with the current COVID-19 global pandemic, and then going back to the early days of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was signed into law in 1882. These portals interweave my narration, poetic imagery, photography, archives, collages, vérité-style scenes, and traditional interviews.

During the fall of 2019, I started to photograph my parents and the impact that gentrification has had on both their daily lives and future in New York City’s Sunset Park, Brooklyn, neighborhood. Then COVID-19 changed everything. Instead of photographing my parents in our family house, I have had to rely on FaceTime calls and my mom’s cell phone images to stay connected to them. This project, especially during the pandemic, has allowed me to explore my internal and external life as a Chinese American with multiple generations of trauma and resilience in the United States.

As we all turn inward during this time of social isolation, I rediscover and deepen my understanding of my parents’ tough fifty-two-year marriage. My parents have had a strained relationship for decades while living under the same roof. This pandemic has strangely brought them closer together. They had been socially distancing from one another for many decades, already before it was the norm. These immersive stories provide a glimpse into understanding the experiences of Chinese Americans that are intimately tied to the US immigration narrative.