Hello, internet friends. It is time, once again, to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Catzie Vilayphonh.
Who are you?
What are you?
I am Lao American, woman, artist and writer. I'm a refugee, who has never met my grandparents or any family outside my mom, dad and sister, and since I was born in camp, I've never been to the country I'm supposedly from. I'm a daughter and a mother.
Where are you?
I'm in Philly, South Philly to be exact. Where I live has been a place where many refugees and people of color live as well, so there's always great food, and you get to experience cultures that you may not have ever have, say living somewhere else.
Where are you from?
That's a trick question right?
What do you do?
I run Laos In The House, aimed at promoting story-telling in the Lao American refugee community through the means of art. In 2015 I curated a gallery exhibit as a way to highlight Lao artists -- 'cause lets be honest, it's kinda hard find us -- and as a means to show all the creative ways our stories can be told. I originally envisioned people being inspired to send their old photos with stories of their family's struggles and successes becoming American, but I learned that those stories are also valuable to the ones who hold them. So I started photographing people wherever I went, interviewing them along the way, and that turned into me documenting some of the stories in a video series. That's also how I learned photography and filmmaking, because no budget equals creativity challenge!
I also recently just joined the team at Black Star Film Festival, which highlights films by people of color and explores themes of blackness, how it permeates so many other cultures and ethnicities, not just African American. In addition, I am a Board Member for 1Love Movement which fights for unjust deportation of Southeast Asian refugees, and I am currently appointed to the Mayor's Commission of Asian American Affairs in Philadelphia, so I guess I "do" a lot of community work.
Lastly, I'm working on my first book of poetry, to be published by Sahtu Press, tentatively scheduled for this year. I say tentatively because I prefer to spend my time making videos with my daughter Aditi.
What are you all about?
I'm all for getting stories told, especially for the people who never get to be in the spotlight. For as long as I've been in the community of Asian American activism, it was weird to me that many didn't know the story of why Lao Americans were in this country, even more strange that some of our own people didn't know that story either. So looking into it, I learned about the U.S. Secret War in Laos and the unexploded bombs left behind from it, why some elders didn't tell their children or grandchildren about the traumas they've been through, why America simply didn't care enough about us. But from that, I also learned why art wasn't a priority in our community, not that they didn't care about what we young kids were doing, but where they're from, art was like this elite privilege you don't get to have when you can only think of survival. So I use art as a tool to help tell stories and make it accessible to those whose story they represent. Art is great in that way, it's not demanding or invasive, but gives you the choice to see it, but also to like or dislike it. If you end up having an opinion about it, that's art doing it's job. If it inspires you to do better or challenge something in your life, then it becomes social change.
What makes you angry?
I feel like there's a meta moment here, Angry Asian Man asking me, a Yellow Rage co-founder, what makes me angry -- ha! I'm angry at a lot, but rather than giving those things a shout out, I'm just gonna channel all that into finishing this book.