Tou SaiKo Lee is a spoken word poet, mentor, hip hop recording artist and community organizer from St. Paul, Minnesota. He teams up with his grandmother Youa Chang who does the traditional art of kwv txhiaj (Hmong Poetry Chanting) to form the group "Fresh Traditions." He has facilitated songwriting/performance poetry workshops and residencies for students at schools and community centers in 10 different states in the U.S. and in Thailand for 15 years. Lee received the Jerome Foundation Travel Study Grant in 2008 and is a 2009 Intermedia Arts VERVE Spoken Word grant recipient. In 2008 he was featured in an online video documentary in the New York Times called "Hmong Hip Hop Heritage." He was more featured in another online documentary in 2010 through National Public Radio called State of the Re:Union - Twin Cities: Hmong Hip-Hop. Lee is a Bush Foundation Fellow in 2016.
"I envisioned this project Street Stops and Mountain Tops from my short term visits to Thailand in 2008 and 2011. During that time, I was able to experience the life of Hmong people of villages in the mountains of Northern Thailand. I saw many children and youth that were really excited about arts, music and performing. I also noticed that there were very few resources for creativity and no arts classes for them to develop their potential. I observed that there were also many negative influences such as drinking alcohol, illegal drugs and fighting that young people were exposed to there. I don’t have a lot of money to help them but I have experience organizing arts events, I have facilitated after school programming and I have experience teaching youth to be creatively expressive through poetry and songs. I was inspired by Hip Hop music to represent my struggles and identity through messages of songwriting. I was also highly impacted by the community building, positive energy and cultural connection that the Hip Hop movement provided. I also felt a need to reach out to dancers to be incorporated into this project since I saw many physically active young ones in Thailand. I feel that my experience in Southeast Asia has changed my life to feel more connected world-wide to that way of life and bringing back my experiences to share with my community in the United States. I believed that this is what I have to offer and I have hope in collaborating with like-minded passionate people to make this happen."