Meet Tou SaiKo Lee

Interviewed by Xeng Moua

Today Tou SaiKo is an intergenerational bridge builder, worldwide teaching artist, cultural revitalizer, cultural innovator and catalyst for movement.

He was born in the Nong Kai refugee camp in Thailand. He is currently a community outreach coordinator for Frogtown Neighborhood Association, a teaching artist for COMPAS Arts, a spoken word poet, intergenerational storyteller and a hip hop lyricist.

Growing up I was very shy and rarely ever spoke up. I grew up in Syracuse, NY.  I didn’t have a large Hmong community or any resources to connect to my language and cultural identity.  I had a difficult time speaking my own language and trying to understand the Hmong culture when my family moved to St. Paul, MN.

I remember being scolded for not being able to speak my language from a few elders. My grandma Youa Chang was sponsored over from Laos to the US when I was a teenager. She told me stories and interacted with me in a way where I could learn to speak Hmong little by little. Soon, I really felt more comfortable speaking to her and came up with the idea that we should perform together.

One of my most significant poems is “Generations after Generations” and performing with my grandmother Youa Chang in our intergenerational collaboration “Fresh Traditions.” My experience with this creative duo really helped me understand my cultural identity through learning from my grandma’s kwv txhiaj process.

I also have positive experiences going into schools to guide students in developing their own poems and songs through creative movement and writing. As a performer I am honored when people in the audience give feedback that they feel connected to or inspired by what was created. I understand the importance of providing a voice for the voiceless.

I founded a project called Street Stops and Mountain Tops which connects teaching artists from the U.S. to Hmong children in Southeast Asia. We brought 3 teaching artists and 2 organizers to engage in creative art programs with Hmong students in villages and orphanages of Thailand in 2016 and then again in 2018.

I had the privilege of watching these students develop their self-confidence, become more creative, and tell their stories. I believe one of my purposes here is to reach out to those who are disadvantaged and underprivileged. I hope to help them nurture their potential with support and connections to resources to allow them to shine. Watching them rise to their own success is what gives me pride and appreciation for why I’m here.

In my free time, I enjoy practicing dribbling techniques, crossovers, stop and pop jump shots and no look passes with a basketball. I dabble in Tai Chi and Muay Thai. I collect and taste various gummi snacks from many parts of the world.

My wife Ntaub and I embrace trying various ethnic restaurants in our diverse Twin Cities community, some of our favorites are Ecuadorian, Ukrainian, Salvadorian, Tibetan, Nepali and Ethiopian. I love being around waterfalls, mountains, rivers and animals in natural habitats.

My advice to those struggling to achieve your own goals and achievements is to strive for your passions strategically. Find a community of like-minded achievers around you to find inspiration, make connections and to push each other’s ideas forward. Find mentors who have been there and reach out to them. Ask for help and stay humble to learn but also be confident to share with the world when it’s time to.

Don’t forget where you came from and I encourage all who are able to achieve to give back. Develop other strong skillsets other than your main passion to have more funding streams such a business, marketing, community work, youth development, administrative, journalism, carpentry and so on.

In the future, I would like to write feature length film scripts and develop television series to represent Southeast Asian experiences in the U.S. (which are underrepresented). I will be releasing my first Hmong language Hip Hop album titled Ntiaj Teb Koom Tes which translates to Unified Worldwide in 2019. I am currently writing a memoir about my collaboration with Grandma Youa Chang to honor her passing titled My Grandma can Freestyle.

To connect with Tou Saik, please check out his website at www.tousaikunites.com,

Follow his facebook page at facebook.com/tousaikunites, his youtube channel at youtube.com/tousaik

Seng Alex Vang

Seng Alex Vang is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at the University of California, Merced. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Geography & Ethnic studies at California State University, Stanislaus where he teaches courses in Asian American studies.

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