My Story

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My ARTISTIC journey...

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My body was not born here, but my spirit was,
A seed mistakenly exported.
The longer I was gone, the more I shriveled up,
A weed amongst the red, red roses.
I had to feel the soil by going up,
And landing in a place somewhat foreign.
But when I found my roots, I was no longer a bud.
I rose above the mud as a lotus.
— Mekong River (written by Jumakae)

I didn't see many people who looked like me on television while growing up. I was a dark kid with coke bottle glasses and crooked teeth who was bullied a lot (I'll have to excavate pictures for proof), and spent most of my time alone with my thoughts doodling pictures of Disney cartoons, Anime characters, fairies and other strange creatures. During holiday breaks, my vacations consisted of travel back to my mother's village in Southern Thailand where I'd return with stories of the jungle that none of my classmates could relate to. I was a brown Buddhist child in a predominately white Christian school, and my pencil was the only accomplice that didn't make jokes out of me or told me my parents were going to hell. (My parents had no idea, and only sent me there after being sold on their extended hours of childcare since the rest of our family remained in Thailand.) I became so good at drawing that one kid even paid me 20 cents for a sketch. Once, I got a letter sent back home by my teachers telling me to stop drawing unicorns on all of the spelling tests.

In sixth grade, I was transferred to a public school where the bullying stopped and I made a few new friends who could care less about my family's ethnic or spiritual background; I was so fascinated by their diverse religious upbringings and they couldn't understand why I begged them to take me to their place of worship. To get me out of that headspace, they introduced me to the power of karaoke - and learned I loved to sing(Colors of the Wind, anyone? This was before I knew how problematic Pocahontas was, but at the time she was the only brown Disney character I could identify with!) It wasn't until later I learned I could write songs that spoke to my personal experiences.

In high school, I looked for excuses to continue singing so I auditioned for my first ever theater show. To my surprise, I ended up getting one of the lead roles - which eventually led me to play Rizzo from the musical Grease in my senior year of high school. (Asian Rizzo and Black Sandy... only possible at a school with mostly students of color.) While these characters did not reflect any of our adolescent realities, it was so healing for us to be able to release the masks we wore on the daily as we tried to fit in and use the stage to play. I also became a part of a theater troupe where we traveled to different schools throughout Southern California to discuss racism, gun violence, and other isms that put a name to much of what I was experiencing in the world. My reoccurring role was the "Conscience" who weaved these stories of historical violence together and repeatedly tried to stop it, a character that has never left me since then.

I eventually joined a Theater of the Oppressed troupe in college where I was able to disclose my own experience as a survivor of sexual violence from my childhood years for the first time, a violation committed by the neighbor who took advantage of my vulnerable immigrant parents who were desperate for support; I was beginning to understand the power of liberation arts as a means of community engagement and radical healing.

I attended my first open mic at age 16 at Shades of Afrika in Long Beach, CA - and learned about the art of spoken word, which is how our ancestors passed down stories before there was the written word. Instead of waiting for Hollywood to represent stories reflective of my life, it was then I realized I could write and share my own. Since then, I've led countless workshops for young people throughout California on reclaiming their narratives through poetry and performance. I also co-founded one of the largest open mics in Long Beach called "Break the Silence", which successfully ran for 5 years.

 I entered CSU Long Beach as an Arts Education major, and studied abroad in Cambodia where I volunteered with an organization called Tiny Toones that taught street kids how to breakdance (and almost didn't come back!). To my parents' relief, I returned to the states and eventually graduated with a B.A. in Communication, Culture and Public Affairs and Theater Arts minor in 2010. Tired of academia and its intellectual jargon, I returned to Thailand to learn more about my family's history that school never taught me with nothing more than a backpack and journal. I joined a roots reggae band called KaiJo Brothers as a keyboardist and singer, touring around the country for several months bridging together our traditional music with western influence. The last show we did was in my mother's village of Phatthalung, where I was able to see my extended family and get a deeper glimpse of the creativity and healers running through my blood.

MY WELLNESS JOURNEY...

In 2015, I eventually moved back home to attempt a life of normalcy and got my first full-time job at a domestic violence agency as a community organizer, violence prevention specialist, and rape crisis hotline counselor working with the Southeast Asian population in Los Angeles and Orange County (far from normal). In my two years there, I realized the limitations of my work within direct services. As a community organizer, I knew we couldn't tackle domestic violence without addressing the systems of oppression that led to harm in the first place. As a service provider, I saw many people burn out around me without being given the proper tools on how to care for themselves and each other. While solutions for survivors were limited to hotline numbers, 9-1-1, talk therapy, and shelters, I was curious about ways communities responded collectively to violence without police intervention or hotlines, and how it is our ancestors already knew how to heal themselves.

Labeled as too "free-spirited" and rebellious for the conventional workplace, I became liberated  - which propelled me into my journey of somatics and reclaiming our practices of ancestral healing that are so interwoven with my duty as an artist. This includes becoming a trauma-informed yoga instructor, certified life coach, pole dancing intern, yoni steam apprentice, doula, restorative justice circle keeper, and receiving extensive training on womb wellness in both Southern California and Thailand. From moving our hips to massaging our abdomen, I learned how it is we can release the trauma often stored in our belly - especially for immigrant mothers who learned how to navigate the United States with language barriers and little resources while birthing their children. 

 If trauma is intergenerational, so is resiliency.

Whether it be through the arts or coaching, it is my calling to cultivate that seed waiting to sprout that is already within each of us so that we can witness the collective change we wish to see.

An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.
— Nina Simone