MINNEAPOLIS — Join co-director Justin Schell for a special screening of Travel in Spirals, which tells the emotionally powerful story of the Hmong artist Tou SaiKo Lee’s journey back to Thailand, nearly 30 years after his family fled the aftermath of the Vietnam War for the United States. The film will screen on May 1 at 12:30 in Nicholson Hall 275, and will kickoff Asian American Heritage Month at the University of Minnesota.
Travel in Spirals tells the story of Hmong hip-hop MC, spoken word poet, and community organizer Tou SaiKo Lee as he journeys back to his birthplace of Thailand. Born on the Nongkhai refugee camp, his parents fled Laos after the Vietnam War and came to America when Tou was two months old. Taking its title from the spirals in Hmong paj ntaub, the story cloths that for many years were a way for the Hmong people to tell their history before a written language, Travel in Spirals documents Tou’s journey to the source of himself and his heritage almost 30 years after he left. The film was selected for the 2011 Twin Cities Film Fest and the 2011 Qhia Dab Neeg Film Festival. It has also screened on TPT as part of the MNTV Showcase and is currently on view at the Walker Art Center.
Tou SaiKo Lee is a spoken word artist, MC, and community organizer. Born in a Hmong refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand, he moved to Syracuse, New York when he was one month old, then moved to Providence, and finally came to St. Paul, Minnesota in his early teens. He founded the first socially-conscious Hmong hip-hop group, Delicious Venom, with his brother Vong, and now works as a solo artist as well as being a member of the funk-rock band PosNoSys (Post-Nomadic Syndrome). Tou regularly performs with his grandmother, Youa Chang, as “Fresh Traditions,” mixing his own hip-hop and spoken word with his Grandma’s style of oral poetry, kwv txhiaj.
Tou has worked in schools around Minnesota and around the country, and with non-profit organizations such as the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT), Hmong American Partnership, and In Progress on projects as various as the Fong Lee police brutality case, mental health and Hmong Americans, and The H Project, an album created to increase awareness about the Hmong genocide occurring in Laos. Tou is currently completing his debut solo album. In 2008, Tou visited Thailand for the first time since his birth in Nongkai, and is excited to reconnect and build upon his experiences in his return trip as part of We Rock Long Distance.
Justin Schell is a documentary filmmaker and writer based in Minneapolis, MN, though he was raised in the Boogie Down Brewtown of Milwaukee, WI. He is currently completing We Rock Long Distance his first feature-length documentary film, which focuses on Tou SaiKo Lee as well as M.anifest and Maria Isa..
Other video work of his has been part of an exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Nash Gallery, broadcast on MTN, and featured online on The Progressive, CNN, and The Huffington Post. He has written articles for a variety of publications, including the Twin Cities Daily Planet, The Liberator, Rain Taxi, MNArtists.org, Asian-American Press, Mshale, and NewMusicBox.org. His essay “‘From St. Paul to Minneapolis, All the Hands Clap for This’: Hip-Hop in the Twin Cities,” can be found in Hip-Hop in America: A Regional Guide, an encyclopedia of American hip-hop scenes. He holds a PhD from the Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society department at the University of Minnesota.
This event is sponsored by the Immigration History Research Center and the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Light refreshments will be provided. This event is free and open to the public.
Please RSVP at [email protected], subject heading “TIS Screening.”
For further details, please contact Saymoukda Vongsay, Community Outreach Coordinator, Asian American Studies Program, 612-625-4813 or [email protected].