Marlene Paez Dukes
Curiosity is many things—a trait, a mindset, and a skill. To wonder about the things you don’t know and to actively fill those gaps with knowledge is to consciously enrich your life.
We’re so excited to be exploring February’s global theme of CURIOSITY with Katherine Nagasawa, a multimedia journalist and documentary filmmaker who uses her skills to dig into, and shed light on, the stories that pique hers and others’ curiosity.
For her day job, she’s the multimedia producer for WBEZ’s Curious City, a journalism project that answers people’s questions about Chicago, the region, and its people. Outside of WBEZ, Katherine has produced several documentary film projects including Beyond the Seal, a web documentary about Fair Trade bananas and the people behind a movement to change the banana industry. Her latest short documentary, Ilse, follows an undocumented high school senior as she attempts to obtain permanent residency.
Eager to learn more about the creative storyteller behind this work, we reached out to Katherine with a few questions ahead of Friday’s event. Check out our Q&A below and join us this Friday at Threadless! Can’t make it? Tune in to the livestream on our Facebook page.
See you soon!
How would you define this month’s theme, Curiosity, in one sentence or less?
A sense of wonder and inquisitiveness about the world that comes from being present and attuned to one’s surroundings.
What is one of the most enjoyable surprises you’ve come across while producing stories for WBEZ’s Curious City?
Investigating what other Chicagoans are curious about makes the city come alive to me in new ways. I notice more when I’m out and about, and am able to connect seemingly random details to specific parts of the city’s history, or to present-day policies. For example, the handwritten Chinese signs on lampposts in Chinatown have new meaning to me because of a recent question we answered about why it’s so hard to find apartment listings in Chinatown online. It turns out that these paper signs are one way Chinese landlords advertise apartments through exclusively Chinese networks, as opposed to English-language websites like HotPads or Domu. This helps explain why Chinatown has maintained its historical identity as an enclave for recent Chinese immigrants while other neighborhoods, like Pilsen and Koreatown, have gentrified or dissolved.
Has working on stories centered on others’ curiosity changed how you approach other work or personal projects?
Absolutely! I think it’s cemented my belief that starting with a question is one of the best ways to discover interesting stories. One of my web documentary projects, “Beyond the Seal,” follows fair trade bananas from the fields in Ecuador to grocery stores on the East Coast. The idea for it came when my film partner, Leah Varjacques, saw bananas with “Fair Trade” stickers on them while shopping at the Dill Pickle Coop in Logan Square. She wondered about where the bananas came from, and what “Fair Trade” meant in a tangible sense for all the players along the supply chain. Those initial questions jump started the project and helped focus our reporting when we were out in the field.
What three words that start with the letter “L” would you use to describe yourself?
Listener, loving, and lively.
What are the top three places you find inspiration?
In archives, out and about in the city, and in other people’s life stories.
What’s one fun fact about you that’s not in your official bio?
When I was in elementary and middle school, I wrote and edited a monthly family newspaper — my first foray into journalism!