Monday, May 12, 2008

Tou Saiko Lee, A Hmong Hip Hopper

First of all, thank you to everyone reading my blog. I know how valuable your time is so I appreciate you sloughing through my ramblings when you could be doing so many other important things, like...well, you know what they are.

Tonight, I'd like to introduce a young man who's going places. That's his photo on the left. Check him out on the landing page of the New York Times' website. Just click "Magazine" to watch the video:

I first met Tou Saiko Lee several years ago when I interviewed him for an article about Southeast Asian American gangs for A former gang member, Lee provided great insight into why gangs were so prevalent in Southeast Asian communities, and why few outsiders realized the enormity of the problem. Lee, of course, left gang life and became a highly respected community activist incorporating poetry, spoken word, and rap music into his messages of staying off the streets.

In the video, Lee talks about his work and about Hmong life both in the U.S. and Laos. (You might want to familiarize yourself with Hmong history in America--they were the fierce mountain folks who fought on the side of the U.S. against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, then came here as refugees.) In one scene, Lee's grandmother sings a traditional Laotian song while he raps. Watching them together brought to mind the music videos of Jero, an African American man who sings Japanese enka songs that his Japanese grandmother taught him. Now, maybe it's because I'm getting old, but I find it so refreshing to witness the respect that these young people endow on their elderly relatives.

When I lived in Waikiki, my best friend was a young lady who worked at her family's jewelry booth next to the spot where I painted illustrations on fingernails in the International Marketplace. Even though Khanyka was some 20 years my junior, we would go out dancing on the weekends--when she could get away. Her family was from Laos, and I soon learned that meant her older sisters and their husbands were in charge and not to be contradicted. Family was a priority and Khanyka often worked late--sometimes delaying our outings--whenever the Marketplace was crowded and the doors to the public still opened. Every last customer had to be out the door before Khanyka could leave. Many nights, I'd be dressed up and ready just waiting for Khanyka to finish ringing up the last sale so we could head out to the club.

Khanyka's grandmother also lived in the same household that included Khanyka, one of her two older sisters, that sister's husband, and their son; and, later, Khanyka's boyfriend. Khanyka always took special care of the oldest (her grandmother) and the youngest (her nephew) and their needs came first. Yet the kind of honor she displayed to her family was also shown to her friends. There wasn't any favor I could ask Khanyka for that she wouldn't try to fulfill. I don't know if it's a Laotian thing or if Khanyka was just a special person, but it seems that those who enjoy good family relationships also have great friends.

Hey, please watch Tou Saiko Lee in the video and let me know what you think.

Your Hip Hapa,

1 comment:

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