Kristy Moua, Contributor
The Augsburg Choir performed with Harding Choristers at Harding High School on Thursday, Feb. 28. The show was assembled with the help of Harding’s choir director Nadia Romero, LA-based composer Elliot Z. Levine, local Hmong American poets Paul Yang and Lee Her and finally Augsburg’s choir director Kristina Boerger. Although this may seem like just a normal choir collaboration, this particular performance weaved music, storytelling, history and Hmong-American cultures together.
Kristina Boerger was able to elaborate more with me about how the intercultural performance came to be and the impact that the performing arts can have for everyone. The two poems, “My Dad the Mekong and Me the Mississippi,” written by Paul Yang, and “Love Forever,” written by Lee Her, were recited by Augsburg student Joe Gaskill and an unidentified Hmong Harding student.
Boerger gave some details and a synopsis about the poems, saying, “Peter Yang’s poem is in English and refers to the Mekong River, the political border across which his father crossed at great peril during the Vietnam War. Lee Her’s poem, in Hmong, uses imagery of dew, rain, rivers and oceans as metaphors for beauty, life, love and faith.”
I also had the opportunity to talk with Gaskill about his role in reading the powerful, cross-generational poem. I asked him if he volunteered to read the poem or if he was chosen to, in which he replied, “I volunteered. I have a connection to my best friend in high school who is Hmong American, and his family who told us about their immigration story with my friend. I knew the history, and I am empathetic in knowing about the atrocities that his family and community have had to struggle through. They are similar to the historical trauma many Indigenous people in my community have faced throughout existence in America. So, with these two feelings, I auditioned to read the poem.” Gaskill also adds, “The poem will not have its true justice until a Hmong-identifying person delivers the poem, the only way that it should be performed. I’m happy that I was picked to read the poem of course, but I only wish that it was someone from the community who has actually been affected by this history to have read it.”
Reflecting on representation, Boerger discussed about how the inspirational teacher and singer Romero knew how important this concert would be for the students. “The families served by Nadia’s school come from many countries, but her choirs are 80 percent Hmong. She and I talked about how meaningful it would be for her students to have their first school experience singing in the language of their elders. We knew this would be a memorable project. I took the opportunity to share with my students … some documentaries on the origins of the Hmong refugee crisis and on the Hmong diasporas in Minneapolis and in the Ozarks. All of us emerged from this assignment knowing more about our neighbors than we had at the start of the semester.”
Finally, Boerger shared five things that she hopes the audience of the show and everyone involved can walk away with: “1. Choral singing is gorgeous. 2. Poetry is powerful. 3. Shared creative expression is a valuable means for uniting people of disparate backgrounds and abilities. 4. Accomplished musicians, poets and teachers are priceless assets. 5 The healthiest and most effective way to experience our humanity is to study and celebrate the particularities of the different cultures that have formed us.”
The performing arts has proven itself once again to be a powerful tool that can unite people and allow the community to recognize the diverse individuals within it. It is these performances that provide the opportunity to learn and understand which needs to continue in our community and world.
This article was originally published in the March 8, 2019 issue.