My Journey with CHAT, an Exit Essay by Tracy Yang


Tracy Yang – Youth Leadership Group Exit Essay

I grew up experiencing different forms of art but not knowing the depth of it. I came to realize that art isn’t just a phase or a hobby; there is much more to it. I notice that no matter where I go, I am surrounded by art, and that I myself am a form of art. From the textures of the walls to the clothes we wear, we are living in a world created by and for artists.

The Center of Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT) brought out the best artist within me. CHAT values creativity, community, integrity, and progress. Their mission is to provide quality arts education, activities and opportunities for Hmong American youth and artists. CHAT envisions a community where Hmong American artists are inspired to share their perspectives, valued for their creative contributions, and empowered to challenge life’s boundaries. CHAT’s vision is to nurture, explore and illuminate the Hmong American experience through artistic expressions. CHAT supported and helped nurture me into who I’ve always wanted to be.

CHAT shows me that there is more to art than the face value and aesthetics. CHAT brought me out of my shell, especially through providing performance and community organizing opportunities. The CHAT staff and team is always welcoming with open arms, and shows positive support to those who are open to learning. Beyond expectations, the members and staff of CHAT have become my second family, with CHAT’s Studio 220 being my second home. Not only do they help improve me as an artist, they also help me develop and expand my leadership skills; knowledge that I will carry on in the real world. CHAT provides great connections with people and community, and with opportunities and resources such as excellent volunteer and service learning experiences. CHAT has definitely changed my view on art, community and most importantly, myself.

Prior to CHAT, I dealt with a lot of insecurity issues. I was a very vulnerable person, and was frequently frightened at the thought that I would be judged. I knew I had talent but I just didn’t know how to break out of my shell. I experienced bullying from a young age, and for years was constantly made fun of. I came to a belief that I was worthless, ugly, and overall, a nobody. Although I tried to keep my head held high, I was really torn apart inside. I didn’t want to just be a nobody; this made the decision of breaking out of my shell even more difficult. My mentality during this period was to hide from it all, so I wouldn’t be bullied. This led me to shut myself out from the world, and eventually lose hope of any goals and dreams I once had. But I came to CHAT, and the CHAT environment and culture helped change that. CHAT influenced me to want to better myself, and my future.

As a young Hmong American girl, I always dreamed of a career in the fashion industry. I couldn’t and wouldn’t imagine doing anything else! I wanted to be a model, an editor, and a stylist, but little by little, my dreams began to vanish. Harsh words from my immediate surroundings were affecting my dream. I began to think, who would want to dress a chubby little Asian girl in their finest textiles?? I also started thinking that maybe dreams were just meant to be fiction. By involving myself with CHAT, I was proven wrong. CHAT showed me that there are people like me who dream of becoming something bigger, something different, and can become more successful than you could imagine.

Being involved in CHAT’s Youth Leadership Group (YLG) made me believe in myself, and has made me more confident. The good people at CHAT guided me when I was lost and confused, and continue being supportive; giving much helpful and valuable advice. CHAT helped me pick myself back up, and gave me even more hope for my future. I really do believe that I wouldn’t understand who I am today without them and the positivity they provided me.

I am proud to have had a great amount of volunteer and service learning experiences because of CHAT. As a YLG member, we have partnered with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association (District 7 Planning Council) to organize great community events such as the Kite Festival and the Lot Squats. I have also had the opportunity to volunteer at CHAT’s Annual Fresh Traditions Fashion Show to fundraise for programming; raising over $6,000 and CHAT’s Annual Hmong Arts & Music Festival, drawing in thousands and thousands of attendees. I am fortunate for the opportunity to give back to the community, and be a part of these many amazing events. I learn how to work as a team, while improving my leadership and organizational skills tremendously.

These volunteer experiences also take me out of my comfort zone. Through the arts, I learn the value of community and how important it is to bring community together. I learned to be more social, more conscience, and the importance of how to be innovative, to think outside the box. I also learned the importance being unique and open minded with a willingness to try new things. Through these volunteer experiences, I also connected with many new faces to gain and appreciate different points of views. CHAT has taught me that the good deeds we do today, will one day do us good in the future.

I believe that being an artist is the best way to become more content and confident with oneself and others. It’s amazing to think that without CHAT, I could have lost my motivation to achieve my dreams and goals. I might have still been someone who was afraid of people and their judgements, and I might have never been close to being the person I always dreamed of being. This negativity was prevented because of the arts, CHAT staff and the YLG. In addition, I also learned how important community is, and how to effectively use the opportunities that are given to me to impact my community.
I’ve always known what I wanted in life, and I now know that as long as I stay true to myself, no one’s judgement should deter me from my dreams. I know who I am. I am an intelligent, hardworking, passionate, talented, free-spirited, and beautiful person. I now understand that we must take all of our negative experiences and channel them into something positive and brighter in order for a successful future. Lastly, thank you to the good people, youth and artists of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent; with your support I was able to break out of my shell.

I am now attending the University of Milwaukee, Wisconsin working towards becoming a Creative Artistic Director. I hope to move to a bustling city such as NYC and work in the fashion industry. I will never forget my experiences with CHAT, and I look forward to visiting the Twin Cities and of course … stopping by to visit my family at the Center for Hmong Arts & Talent.