ART IS... Kevin Yang
Kevin Yang is a Hmong American multidisciplinary artist from the Twin Cities. Kevin creates primarily in the mediums of spoken word, filmmaking, and theater. He finds most of his inspiration unraveling his experience as a Hmong soul born in the United States. Kevin also has a great fondness for almond milk and banana nut granola.
- As an artist, I think one of my greatest abilities
is I get to help folks practice empathy.
I feel like often times when we approach
difficult topics or situations
we try to explain why we believe our side is valid
for folks to understand empathy.
Sometimes we need to understand it from our heart
instead of our head.
I think that spoken word in my art
has really allowed me to do that.
To begin conversations with our heart
instead of trying to believe that logic
can solve all the issues or all the problems
in this world.
Do you ever wonder where you come from?
Do you find comfort in vague memories of Ellis Island?
How many servings from the melting pot
did it take for you to arrive at this conversation?
Maybe you take pride in the Mayflower.
Maybe you are an original American.
Did you ever ask yourself?
If the land we stand on today
once belonged to someone else?
Did you ever ask yourself?
Maybe the land never belonged to any of us
instead we belong to the land.
I often have trouble expressing myself.
I'm a very introverted person.
So, having my voice heard by other people is something
that has been difficult for me.
From very early on I learned how to write.
It was always something that I just kept to myself.
And then my senior year of high school,
we read this poem by a Hmong author
and it just resonated with me so much.
I could literally feel
like a physical change in my body.
Like hearing myself read the poem
and my English teacher was very excited about this.
And after class, he handed me a book of poems by
a Minnesota poet by the name Ed Bok Lee.
I remember googling Ed Bok Lee afterwards
and finding these like videos,
these spoken word videos
and it was the first time I had seen spoken word before.
I'm seeing these other Asian American folks
being so honest and ruthless even,
with their words and their ideas.
I was like, this is exactly what I want to do.
I am one of five brothers.
Xuezeng, Lajly, Wuang, Meng
and there's me,
And on most days,
Kevin works just fine.
However, if you ask my mother what my name is,
like if I just dropped a plate while washing the dishes,
like if I come home a few hours past curfew,
like if I forgot to thaw the chicken
like how I was asked to four hours ago,
then my name quickly becomes Ntxuam.
And it is a beautiful name
given to me by my mother.
Suggested by my grandfather.
In Hmong, it means fan, possibly an electric one.
Born on the south side of Minneapolis in June
in a house with only one dingy air conditioner
where we all crammed into one bedroom,
shut all the doors and closed all the windows
where they called me Ntxuam.
In English, Ntxuam means can I call you Kevin instead.
The spoken word allowed me to better understand myself
in so many different ways.
I tell myself that if I'm going to be approaching
an art form that is this powerful, I needed to take
a deeper look at myself and create work that speaks
to my truth.
That for me was thinking more deeply about my Hmong
Whenever I practice my art form, it is so deeply rooted
to art form and the work of my ancestors.
The way that we've kept our history alive
has always been through art.
Whether it be through the stories that we tell,
whether it be through the clothes that we wear,
the language that we speak.
My name is Kevin Yang.
(speaking in foreign language)
I'm super excited to be here today,
a former board member of HSA, so I know how important
your work is.
Graduate of Hamline University.
And it always makes me so happy to be in a room
full of my people celebrating a new year.
I feel like I'm one of many types of storytellers
in our community.
I find myself often times feeling like I'm in between.
I think about my mother and father, and my grandmother,
folks who arrived in this country because of war.
I think about my younger brother and generations
after me who are finding themselves more and more
detached from the generations before them.
And I find myself in the middle.
Sort of navigating both our experiences
in interesting ways.
Doing my best to have these two generations
speak to each other.
My grandmother sees the world in ways
I'm still trying to comprehend.
She measures the world in approximates and pinches of salt,
and handfuls of strawberries and bok choy hearts
and torn into fingertips.
She has never owned a calendar.
I think there is something powerful recognizing my place.
Third place narratives of not saying I'm in between
Hmong-ness and in between American-ness.
But really saying I'm in this third place,
where certain things only make sense to me.
And this third space is just as valid
as the spaces we're perceived to be in between.