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City Heights Mortuary Featured In San Diego’s Asian Film Festival

Goodbody Mortuary on El Cajon Boulevard.

Photo by Ebone Monet

Above: Goodbody Mortuary on El Cajon Boulevard.

San Diego Asian Film Festival is underway, and it features a documentary series called "The Paradise We Are Looking For," which is a look at San Diego's Asian American stories.

One of the short films in the series is "The Morning Passing on El Cajon Boulevard." It takes audiences inside Goodbody Mortuary. Goodbody is located on El Cajon Boulevard in the city's City Heights community. It is a former catholic church converted into a funeral home, specifically designed to carry out traditional Vietnamese funerals. Julie Tran is the general manager. She has been practicing and performing traditional Asian funeral ceremonies for 20-years.

Listen to this story by Ebone Monet.

Photo by Ebone Monet

Julie Tran, general manager at Goodbody Mortuary in San Diego.

"I've always been amazed by the industry," she said. "When the doctor gives up hope you turned to the funeral director to fulfill your duties as a child or a grandchild."

Tran said Vietnamese funerals can be elaborate, and to conduct one there’s a lot you need to know. For instance, the use of joss paper, to symbolize money the dead bring to the next world.

“Would you be able to line the casket with joss the way it should be lined? Would you know what kind of joss paper to buy or what type of foods, because you have, you know, a certain color and types of foods?" she said. "Would you know what type of flowers to buy, the meaning of those flowers, and then to do it before a certain time because of superstitious reasons?”

Filmmaker Quyên Nguyen-Le said when she decided to make a film about the Asian American experience, Goodbody and Tran immediately came to mind.

“One of the reasons why I really wanted to do this film is because I have a personal fear as a second-generation American person that if my parents passed I wouldn't know what to do," she said. "And that's like very terrifying to think about.”

Le's efforts to answer that question cinematically resulted in her short film “Morning Passing on El Cajon Boulevard.”

It touches on the preservation of culture, the gap in knowledge from one generation to the next, identity and grief.

This year’s SDAFF takes place Nov. 7-16.

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