We’ve updated this article with a new video interview—below, watch Michael Vince Kim speak about his award-winning project.


In 1905, around 1,000 Koreans arrived in Mexico aboard the SS Ilford. They had departed an impoverished country, falling under the heavy weight of the Japanese Empire. On the other side of their journey, they were promised future prosperity in a paradisiac land. However, when they arrived in Yucatan, they were sold off as indentured servants.

They were set to work in henequen [agave, or aenikkaeng in Korean] plantations under harsh conditions, harvesting a particular variety known as Yucatan’s green gold. They worked side-by-side with local Mayans, often learning the Mayan language in preference to the Spanish of their masters. Many went on to marry local Mayan women.

By the time their contract ended in 1910, Korea had already been incorporated into the Japanese Empire. With no homeland to return to, they decided to stay in Mexico. Some went on to seek work elsewhere in Mexico and in Cuba.

Taking from stories told by the descendants of the Korean henequen workers in Mexico and Cuba, this project provides a poetic account of their memories.

—Michael Vince Kim

The video above was shot in our Amsterdam office during the World Press Photo Festival 2017. Michael Vince Kim was a Juror’s Pick in the Emerging Talent Awards 2017 as well as the winner of the 1st prize stories, in the People category of the 2017 World Press Photo Awards.