Catzie Vilayphonh was key figure in bringing the groundbreaking National Lao American Writers Summit to Minneapolis in 2010, and has been a frequent visitor to college campuses across Minnesota over the last decade. She is a Lao American writer and performer normally based in Philadelphia, where she is a member of the acclaimed spoken word duo Yellow Rage. She broke ground as the first Lao woman to appear on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam in 2001. She has performed across the country with acclaimed figures such as Sarah Jones, Beau Sia and I Was Born with Two Tongues. She also writes for a variety of magazines and literary journals.
Through poetry, she and her partner Michelle Meyers hope to provide awareness of a rarely heard perspective. She explores topics from fetishes to cultural appropriation and ethnic pride, challenging mainstream misconceptions of “Asianness.” It’s been a little while since we last checked in on her, so we thought it was a good time to catch up:
For our newer readers, can you tell us a little about yourself and your family? When did you all make it to the United States?
Catzie Vilayphonh: I’m a writer, poet living in Philly – best known for being an Angry Asian Girl on Def Poetry with my group Yellow Rage. I have big curly hair that I wholeheartedly embrace, I love guys with beards, and according to recent tweets at me, I’m a dance machine and karaoke queen.
I’m not sure when my family made it to the US, but judging by my parents hair and outfits, it was in the 80s, prolly immediately after I was born.
What are some of your favorite things about being a part of the Lao community?
CV: Food obviously. But I love everything. I think in the process of losing so much as refugees, we learn a lot in trying to reclaim and find out family histories. Hopefully, that quest for knowledge grows with the new generation.
What was your favorite subject in school?
CV: I guess I would have to say Social Studies, especially when we got a chance to talk about Asian Americans, and the civil rights movement. I suppose that’s the reason many of my poems are so socially tied to people issues.
What inspires you?
CV: Everything, in a good and bad way. I’m distracted everytime I turn on the computer. It’s no wonder nothing ever gets done.
What’s your favorite Lao dish?
CV: Hmmmmm, it’s a 5-way tie between sai gok (lemongrass sausage), sen kow piek (sticky rice noodles), dum bak hoong (papaya salad, bc duh), kapoon (red curry noodles) and good old fashion laap (the herbs make any proteins tasty, I’m willing to try tofu too)
What’s your next big project you see for yourself?
CV: My next big project is Laos in the House, an arts festival that celebrates who we are as Lao people, in the hopes of telling our stories through different mediums (visual, song, dance, poetry) and sharing them. It’s happening in Philly, to start with, but hopefully we can expand it to happen in as many cities as possible. Art opens doors, and I think that kids should see their culture from as many different perspectives as possible. If anyone’s interested, go check out LaosintheHouse.com. and hit me up.
What advice do you have for young Lao who want to be successful?
CV: Travel a lot and meets lots of people. The more you see and do, the more you realize all the different choices you get to make that will change your life. And whatever you do, don’t date the neighborhood boys. If you’re that curious, they’ll still be around, living it up at their mamas house.
You can also follow Catzie on twitter at @catzuella.
~Bryan Thao Worra