Yani Rose Keo
Cambodian musician and dancer from Houston, Texas
Imagesshow all 26 images
Adoration Dance. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas. Cambodian New Year, April 13, 1985.
Yani Rose Keo says Happy New Year in Cambodian. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas. Cambodian New Year, April 13, 1985.
Yani Rose Keo describes the "Escape to Freedom" play. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas. Cambodian New Year, April 13, 1985.
Yani Rose Keo talks about her mother and how she learned to dance. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas. Cambodian New Year, April 13, 1985.
Yani Rose Keo talks about the importance of music and dance in her family. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas, 2010.
Yani Rose Keo talks about the history of dance and music in her family. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas, 2010.
Yani Rose Keo talks about the meaning of tradition in her life and the importance of passing traditions down. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas, 2010.
Sorith Keo answers the question "How did you learn to play music?" Phone interview with Alan Govenar, 2010.
Sorith Keo answers the question "What does this music mean to you?" Phone interview with Alan Govenar, 2010.
Sorith Keo answers the question "What are the traditional songs that you played about?" Phone interview with Alan Govenar, 2010.
FOR THE TEACHER
Although Cambodian court dance was a classical tradition in Cambodia, like other non-Western art forms it is often considered a folk tradition in the United States because its transmission from one generation to the next is usually by word of mouth and customary example. Before the dislocation of millions of Southeast Asians in the 1970s, the general public would not have seen performances by the royal court dancers and musicians in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam. The folk dances of Southeast Asia were and are important, however, and differ by community and the many cultures of the region. Yani Keo and the Houston Cambodian Association, like Cambodian refugees elsewhere, made the ancient court dances and music a focus for recovery and building new communities. Younger Cambodians participate, but contemporary bands frequently play at the same events as the classical musicians.
Students will learn the important distinction between refugee and immigrant and consider the role of immigration in local culture as they explore Yani Keo’s story. This can be a way to introduce the complex social and political conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s in Southeast Asia that pitted Western democracies against Communist Russia and China. The online teacher’s guide to In My Heart I Am a Dancer provides grounding in Cambodian history and culture (see Resources).
- Improve listening skills and note taking
- Study Cambodian history, court dance and music, and contemporary music
- Consider the difference between refugees and immigrants
- Investigate art as a way of healing
- Research Cambodian New Year and their own seasonal traditions
- Map Yani Keo’s journey to Houston
- Explore refugee resettlement in local communities across Texas
- Write a short play or skit about a contemporary event or issue
Immigration and Diversity
- Not all newcomers are immigrants; some are refugees whose home countries have experienced war and who may have lived in refugee camps for many years.
- Newcomers’ language and traditions travel with them and must be adapted to their new circumstances.
- Social service and religious organizations in many communities are actively engaged in refugee resettlement and are eager to connect with local schools and civic groups.
- Community organizations such as the Houston Cambodian Association help newcomers adapt and at the same time offer a place where language and customs are familiar.
Language and Culture
- When young people no longer speak their parents’ language as a first language, oral traditions such as songs and stories are affected, as are other traditions.
- Languages are part of community diversity.
Adaptation and Assimilation
- Some traditions change, others disappear, and new traditions develop when people immigrate to very different places.
- Newcomers adapt to communities by assimilating new language and customs.
Yani Keo’s story and photos
Everyday Music Field Notes
Traditions Venn Diagram
1-2 class periods
Texas history, social studies, English language arts, music
Review Yani Keo’s story and the radio clip. Choose Big Ideas that you find relevant to your curriculum and your students. Copy the Everyday Music Field Notes and other worksheets student will be using and cue the audio clip.
Students may read the story and listen to the audio story independently, in groups, or as a class. Using the Everyday Music Field Notes worksheet will help them focus more closely. In a class discussion, raise some of the Big Ideas above, depending upon your curriculum and students’ needs and grade level. Here are questions to spark discussion:
- What is an immigrant?
- What is a refugee?
- Yani Keo says, “You need your own music and your own culture. You have to know where you come from.” She also tells newcomers, “Welcome to the United States. Take something good from this country.” If you had to leave your home, what would you take with you? How would you seek something of value to learn from your new community?
- Who are recent immigrants and refugees in your community? Do you know where they have come from and why? How can you learn more?
- What gifts do refugees bring to Texas? What gifts does Texas offer refugees?
Students may work independently or collaboratively to:
Divide topics for a research project about the Cambodian civil war that drove Yani Keo and thousands of others to flee for their lives (see Resources). Topics might include the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, Vietnam War, refugee camps, resettlement efforts, Cambodian court dance and music, Angkor Wat, Buddhism, and contemporary Cambodia. A storyboard or timeline can help you organize your findings for a class presentation or Web page.
Research the Cambodian New Year, which falls in mid-April, and compare it with personal and community New Year’s traditions. The Traditions Venn Diagram can help in analyzing findings for a class celebration that includes music and dance.
Use the school library and the Internet to research Cambodian instruments for a class presentation. Cambodia was a major cultural crossroads over a thousand years ago, so influences from India, Indonesia, and China may be heard in Cambodian music and seen in the instruments. Look for images of the various types of drums, cymbals, flutes, and stringed instruments to include in a class presentation. Try to include audio as well.
Trace Yani Keo’s flight from Cambodia to Bangkok, Paris, and finally Houston. Find clues in her story so you can include dates and illustrations on a map.
Music and drama are a means for the Cambodian community of Houston to depict and memorialize the hardships of war, refugee camps, and resettlement. With a team, choose a topic such as an event or social issue for a short play or skit about contemporary life in Texas. Discuss how art can help people solve dilemmas, heal, and communicate. Research your topic, decide on a message you want to convey about your topic, write and revise a script, assign roles, rehearse, and put on classroom performance, integrating music and dance.
Many Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists and attend temples, which they call wats. (Think about the famous ancient temple in Cambodia, Angkor Wat.) Research this type of Buddhism for an illustrated report. If you live in a community where there is a Buddhist temple, contact the temple to learn more about it and about Buddhism.
Play or skit
Cambodian New Year
Use and create primary sources
Teacher Guide to In My Heart, I Am a Dancer, by Debora Kodish and Deborah Wei, free online, includes history, culture, language, dance, and music and useful tips for teaching about refugees. www.folkloreproject.org/programs/education/dancer/index.php
Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory is an online exhibit of weavings by refugees from several countries depicting their stories. www.citylore.org/wow
Needham, Susan, and Karen Quintiliani. Cambodians in Long Beach. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.
Ebihara, May M., Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood, eds. Cambodian Culture Since 1975. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Yin, Chamroeumn. In My Heart I Am a Dancer. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Folklore Project, 1999. For grades 3-8. Order from www.folkloreproject.org.