Art IS…Bee Yang | Song Poet


(soft music) (singing in Hmong) (speaking in Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] Song
poetry, the Hmong tradition, is a method of carrying story. – [Bee] (singing Kwv txhiaj) – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Interpreter] Kwv txhiaj
is a sequencing of language. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter]
Patterns of word that can carry the yearning and the hopes of
a people together. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter]
My name is Bee Yang. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter]
I am a refugee from the country of Laos. – [Bee] (singing Kwv txhiaj) – [Kalia] My name
is Koa Kalia Yang and I am Bee Yang’s daughter. 2016 I wrote “The Song Poet.” And the song poet is
sitting beside me right here is my father. A Hmong man, a factory
worker from the Midwest, who will remind others
of not loss, but of love. (upbeat music) – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] I was
born with the love of language, a love of song poetry. From my earliest memories, you know, if there was
a celebrated song poet, or even anyone just
singing at all, I would stand close to them, move closer, so I
could hear those words. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter]
I was a child who knew loneliness early. My father died when
I was just two. My song poetry was
my way of expressing what was in my heart,
what was weighing me down, and let the wind and the
whirl carry it with me. – [Kalia] February 17 – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia] (speaking
Hmong to her father) – [Kalia] 1984 – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia] January 10, 1983.
Daddy, that’s your birthday. – [Bee] Yeah. – [Kalia] Yeah,
it’s your birthday. Daddy, you were 23. – [Bee] Mm-hmmm. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] When
we were in the refugee camps of Thailand. I would sing and I would sing
so that the people who I knew had tears inside
of their hearts, that those tears could come out. And so, in that way for me, my process has
been very communal. Because it was the
responses of my audience that prompted my songs to
exit into the world and to live on and on. (solemn music) – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] In
America, when we got here, I was unable to do what
I was actually good at. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] The
gifts that I’d been born with couldn’t translate. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter]
The refugee is inherently broken-hearted because how can you not
when you’ve witnessed the death of entire villages,
your loved ones left behind? – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter]
For the refugee to survive in a country like this,
finding food for the table, finding drink, all of these
are issues of heartache, not just problems to be solved. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] Unless
you’ve gone through war, and unless you’ve left so much
behind, it is an experience that is incredibly
hard to translate into simple human understanding. (upbeat music) – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] When
Kalia wanted to write the story of my life, I said
don’t write it. It’s a life soaked with tears. It’s too heavy for the pages. – [Kalia] But,
more than anything, I think I wrote
my father’s story because people kept on
asking, what are your biggest literary influences? Where did you learn
your love of language? And I used to talk
about Robert Frost, and I used to talk
with Louise Erdrich, who I thought was phenomenal,
and who is phenomenal. And then there was that day
when I realized, you know, my father’s poetry. And the truth is I think my
father is an incredible man, an incredible song poet in
this tiny little language. And I understood the
vast loneliness of that. To be a great song poet, to
be trapped in a language, that people are perpetually
saying is dying. And he’s so keenly aware. Isn’t that the stuff
of great literature? – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] I
do song poetry, and I do it an understanding that, because
I’ve raised my children in a different country,
maybe they won’t understand all the nuances within my
songs, or even the language. – [Bee] (speaking Hmong) – [Kalia, interpreter] Part
of what I’ve yearn to do is to preserve the song as a
gift for future generations. If they don’t like
it, that’s okay. But if one of them
should come searching, that it is there to be found. (guitar music)

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