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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.

AIRED: May 07, 2019 | 0:05:34
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TRANSCRIPT

(upbeat music)

- 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.

(dramatic music)

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.

(dramatic music)

I am one of five brothers.

Xuezeng, Lajly, Wuang, Meng

and there's me,

Kevin.

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.

(light music)

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

American experience.

(light music)

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.

(clapping)

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