How a knock on Neil Armstrong’s door in 1969 still resonates


The extraordinary story unfolded in the most ordinary way: at a dinner party.

Jo Chim and Anisha Abraham were both living in Hong Kong at the time, and during a night out together, Chim listened to Abraham talk about the day his family met Neil Armstrong’s family.

She listened to Abraham describe how the encounter happened months after the astronaut walked on the moon, an event that brought people together even if other issues kept them apart. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated a year earlier.

She listened to Abraham describe how she was a baby when her parents and grandmother, who had emigrated from India to the United States, went on a trip and found themselves in front of a sign that advertised the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, like the home of Neil Armstrong.

She listened to Abraham describe the looks and whispers his mother, Nirmala Abraham, and grandmother, Elizabeth George, drew as they rode through town in their flowing saris and how her father became nervous when his grandmother mother suggested they knock on Armstrong’s childhood door. home to honor him.

The family didn’t know if anyone would be home, and if they were, how they might react to immigrants standing at their doorstep. Elsewhere in the country, white people had thrown dogs at black and brown people who showed up uninvited on their property.

Abraham’s grandmother decided to strike anyway.

What happened next is the subject of a short film that Chim wrote and directed called “One Small Visit”. The actress hadn’t written a screenplay before hearing this story, but she stuck with it, and in 2020 she started working on a draft.

“This story was just too wonderful to stay in one family,” Chim told me one recent morning. “I thought we should share it.”

The film recently won Best Foreign Film at the LA Shorts Film Festival and has been seen at screenings around the world, including at NASA Headquarters in DC. It will also be shown at the Kennedy Center to high school students, the DC South Asian Film Festival and the newly reopened National Air and Space Museum.

I watched it, but I’m not a film critic, and this is not a review. I don’t trust my skills as a film analyzer enough to offer you that. But I can tell you how a little family story turned into a big-screen production, and why 53 years after that nervous shock came another. This time on a DC gate.

It’s no coincidence that a story about one South Asian family’s experience comes at a time when anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise. As a Chinese-Canadian who has lived in multiple countries, Chim has found herself troubled by the global divisions she has seen during the pandemic. With the film, she saw an opportunity to address issues of race, identity and belonging. The screenings, she said, took on the feel of symposiums, with viewers sharing their own experiences.

Chim described the film this way: “At the end of the day, it’s a story between two very different families who find a connection and a shared humanity; a testimony of acts of faith and small acts of openness and kindness that make a difference.

Chim said she also sees it as a story of strong women. Abraham’s grandmother, Elizabeth George, did not let the perception of others limit her experiences. In the movie, when people look at her, she waves to them in a royal manner. She also teaches her granddaughter, Anisha, to do the same.

While filming the film, Chim said, “There were so many times where I was nervous and anxious and I literally sat down and said, ‘What would Elizabeth George do? ”

“I come from a family of go-getters who don’t take no for an answer,” Anisha Abraham said. “We had women who really didn’t perceive the barriers.”

Abraham lives in DC and works as a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine. She is also the author of the book “Raising Global Teens”. But in the film, she is depicted as a baby.

She was only a few months old when her family made the trip, making her too young to remember. But she grew up hearing about it and seeing a reminder in her family’s photo album. In the photo, his parents and grandmother stand outside Neil Armstrong’s childhood home, alongside his parents, Viola and Stephen Armstrong. In her arms, Viola holds Anisha.

The photo was taken after the Armstrong family invited the Abraham family inside and they spent time talking and connecting. But one of the most interesting details in this photo went out of frame. The person who took it was Neil Armstrong, who had just returned from a world tour that included India and was at his parents’ house when the Abrahams showed up.

In the film, Neil Armstrong recounts how looking at Earth from space made him feel small and the planet fragile. He describes the point of view as allowing a person to see that borders between countries do not exist. The phrase “the overview effect” does not appear in the film, but it was used to explain the shift in perspective that can occur when people travel through space and return feeling more connected to the planet and the humans on it.

She hopes to change what people think an astronaut looks like

“We’ve done screenings in a number of locations now and it’s always interesting to see what people bring in and what they take away,” said Anisha Abraham. I asked what she hoped they would take away, and she replied, “The importance of compassion, tolerance and openness in a time when we’ve seen people more polarized than ever.”

Her father, who is called OC in the film, traveled to the United States on a Spanish freighter, she said. When her parents went on this road trip in 1969, they were graduate students with very little. Chim interviewed Abraham’s parents for the film and Abraham said she learned things about them that she didn’t know. One of these things: his father had been invited by a Rotary club to give a speech in a restaurant, and when he returned to the same place the next day, without the members of the Rotary club, he was told that he couldn’t come through the front door.

“My dad is in his late 80s and my mom is about to turn 80,” Abraham said, “and it’s been such an empowering thing for them to be able to share their story.”

Several weeks ago, Abraham’s parents were at her Chevy Chase home with the cast and crew of the film. Abraham was hosting them for breakfast before the screening at NASA. But she also had another reason to bring everyone together.

Neil Armstrong’s son, Mark, had seen the film, and he and his wife, Wendy, wanted surprise his parents.

That morning the Armstrongs knocked on the door and the Abrahams opened it.


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