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How art connects us to our ancestors and ourselves

Growing up in a family with Chinese, Dutch-Indonesian and Native American ancestry, Kayla Briët says the first medium that really allowed her to express her identity was music. Briët offers her Brief but Spectacular take on storytelling through art, language and identity.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask people about their passions.

    Kayla Briet is a Los Angeles-based artist and musician who grew up with a multitude of cultural influences in her life. She has used music to help discover her own identity.

  • Kayla Briet:

    I grew up under the same roof as my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, altogether. My mother is Chinese and Dutch-Indonesian. My father is Ojibwe, an enrolled tribal member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.

    One weekend, I would be learning how to fold Chinese dumplings, and the next weekend, I would be performing a traditional style dance.

    I never felt that I was Chinese enough. I never felt Native enough or Dutch-Indonesian enough.

    The first medium I felt gave me that voice was music.

    When I was 4 years old, my dad taught me the Taos Pueblo Hoop Dance, which is a traditional Native American dance born hundreds of years ago in Southwestern USA. You're creating a series of hoops out of willow wood and threading them together to create formations of the natural world.

    Watching this dance was just absolute magic to me. I felt a deeper connection to the way my ancestors looked at the world around them, what they saw, what they appreciated, what they wanted to share. It was like a time capsule.

    In my music setup, I like to basically bring the whole process that I have in my bedroom, in my cave, by myself on stage. So I love mixing the sounds live. I use a live loop pedal, which enables me to be able to loop rhythm, loop percussion and melody into my song. And then I sing over it.

    One of my favorite instruments to play is the guzheng zither. It is a Chinese harp-like instrument. The guzheng has more than 2,000 years of history. I am feeling like I am playing all of my favorite styles, electronic music, alternative music, with this instrument that was used to play traditional folk music long, long ago.

    A lot of indigenous languages around the world are dying due to historically forced assimilation. Being Native is not about wearing long hair and braids. It's not about the feathers or the beadwork. It's all about how we all center ourselves in the world as human beings.

    It becomes so dangerous when our stories are rewritten or ignored, because when we are denied identity, we become invisible.

    My name is Kayla Briet. This is my Brief But Spectacular take on storytelling through art, language and identity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And an update.

    We recently featured Alan Alda in this series. He recently announced that he has had Parkinson's disease, and he continues to enjoy a full life.

    We certainly wish him the very best.

    You can find all of our Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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