ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. -- When Ka Lia Universe steps onto the stage at the MinnesoThai Street Food Festival this weekend – she won't be singing in Thai.
"For a long time I had a hard time singing in my language," she says. But she's now performing a mix of English and Hmong, or "Hmonglish."
Ka Lia says she's been on a 12-year journey of self-discovery.
"I took a break and I started music again in 2019, that was when I made my first breakthrough, and I found myself having a hard time opening up," she said.
Through some hard work dealing with past traumas in therapy, she realized part of identity as a native-born Midwesterner and Hmong. So she's decided to start performing English, Hmong, and Hmonglish.
"At first, people were like 'it's so weird, why is she doing that,' you should just stick to one or the other," she said. "But I was just like why not, because this is who I am."
Since then, Ka Lia has embraced her languages, especially when she had the chance to perform at an iconic venue: First Avenue.
"The second verse is pretty much all English until the end, and I switch to Hmong. And someone came up to me and was like 'Hmong rap, who knew?' And I was like 'yeah,' so it was a pretty good reaction," she said.
Performing at a festival honoring Thailand, a country which has the 5th biggest Hmong population in the world, is a natural place to share her message.
"I grew up watching Thai dramas and eating Thai food, and I love Thai music," she said. "I do definitely feel connected to Thai culture."
She hopes to be an example to young people, like her 5-year-old daughter Ariel.
"I want her to be able to find her voice and be who she is at all times, even if that continually changes," she said. "I just want her to be confident to love herself."
Ka Lia Universe will perform at the MinnesoThai Street Food Festival on Sunday at 4 p.m. in St. Louis Park. The free event is happening Saturday and Sunday and features music, dancing, cultural demonstrations, and of course - lots of food.
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