LYTA, an electronica-R&B artist from Houston, Texas, is starting to understand her soul. The first in her family born in America, LYTA possesses a soul rooted in refugee hardship. She knows what her family endured and gives everything back to them through her artistry. On the heels of her debut EP, Id, LYTA wrote this letter as an ode to her family's sacrifice and the journey of finding herself through music.
I come from a family of Vietnam War refugees.
They didn’t have much growing up and saw nothing outside of poverty, death, and warfare.
My mom recounts the same stories each year: the Fall Of Saigon on April 30th 1975, the boats, the hunger, the crowded refugee camps, the confusion and chaos of it all.
As the first in my bloodline born on American soil, I was blessed in my family’s eyes. My family took a leap of faith, crossing the Pacific for a better life and better opportunity for their children. They took that leap for me.
Growing up, I didn’t appreciate their sacrifice as much as I do now. I’ve witnessed how refugees and immigrants are treated by the American government (or how they’ve always been treated, but I was too young at the time to understand). Now, I better grasp my family’s strife.
I remember staying up late with my cousins and helping them with their American citizenship test. To me, this seemed like a piece of cake. But to someone who doesn’t know the language or the culture, this test couldn’t be more alien. Up to this point, everyone in my family had only lived to survive. They hadn’t lived to harness the freedoms of a newfound nation.
Now, everything I do now is rooted in a will to give back to my family the best way I know how: through music.
Of course, my parents gave me the “Why don’t you want to make more money and be a pharmacist?” rundown. But they eventually accepted my choices. They wanted me to be happy, to enjoy life in a way they never had a chance to enjoy.
My mom had always taught me to never be afraid of the unknown, to never let anything distract me from the path that I envisioned.
She came to the states with 20 dollars in her pocket, a bag full of clothes, and three children. If my mother managed to run and own multiple, successful hair salons over decades, I should never be afraid to take initiative.
My mother and I share an unspoken bond through love.
She never showed affection, hugged me, or asked about my day.
Despite a lack of warmth, she showed me a path of resiliency, hard-work, and independence. Wanting to give her kids the best life and remain focused on her career, my mother never married. I wish she would stop rejecting the good men that want to be part of her life. But she’s a stubborn, bonafide woman and I’m grateful for her.
Learning from my mother not to live in fear, I caused trouble from an early age. I rebelled, questioning every authoritative figure. I unapologetically carved my own path outside of the one expected of me.
Up until college, my mom enrolled me in Sunday School. I was berated for constant skipping and ostracized for questioning the foundational teachings. For my mom, I stayed as long as I could despite the toxic, emotional environment.
After taking a break to pursue music, I came back to the church with a shaved head, tattoos, and piercings. For the first time, I felt like myself. I was greeted with casual smiles, questions about my travels, and silent judgments. But what others thought didn’t matter to me. After a long hiatus, I didn’t allow their perception to shake the love I had for myself.
That silent judgment stops most people from expressing themselves artistically. Every human has an innate desire to make some form of art, but people let what others think suppress their own will to create. It’s scary to leave your ideas and insecurities at the mercy of opinion.
To quell those insecurities, I think of an insight that someone once shared with me: the body’s response to fear and excitement is almost identical. Our brain’s interpretation of this response determines which way we lean. Instead of telling yourself that you’re afraid of the future, shift the mindset towards excitement. This will feel uncomfortable, but you will learn to recognize that the bridge between anxiety and excitedness is the mind’s understanding of bodily triggers.
I trick myself before every show.
My nerves always get to me.
I can’t turn them off.
Anxiety can build.
But I tell myself over and over that I’m actually fucking excited to perform. Regardless of the outcome, I flip the switch and focus on the moment.
In that moment, I push through massive walls of self-doubt. These walls are built on others’ opinions and a lack of belief in my own capabilities. Making music is a tough scene, but I’m happy with where I am.
I’ve performed and traveled with childhood idols, played for the Mayor of Houston, and was published in my hometown’s paper.
Before music, I felt lost.
I released my first single one year ago and I’m enjoying the journey. I feel like I’m finding myself through the process of creating art in the face of judgment.
In the past year, I've learned to love this life. I love the adventures and the people. I’m not sure how far music will take me, but I’m excited to expand into new, uncomfortable places.
Music has allowed me to fully understand my soul.
On stage, my soul makes sense.
I can observe and not just feel my emotions. I feel my heart swell, and can recognize that swell in others. I’m also in tune with what hurts me the most.
With music, I’m more in control of who I am. That control, that love for myself allows me to connect deeply with others. We need more love, especially self-love, in this world.
A few years ago, the world I became familiar with suddenly halted. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Through my family’s refugee journey and supporting my mother through treatment, I know tomorrow isn’t promised.
When my mother became ill, I worried about how I would survive without her. My future suddenly revolved around the reality that my mother might not be there. Unwavering in support, my family grew close around her. After an excruciating path of pain and treatment, my mother was declared cancer-free during Christmastime 2016, and has been healthy ever since.
Through watching my mother, I’ve learned that time is the most precious thing we have. I may not be here tomorrow, or even within the hour, but I’ll damn sure do all I can until I’m gone.
Every song I make pays homage to the beautiful adventure the universe has given me.
Whether I sing about heartbreak, a bench-side story from a stranger, or a stunning revelation, I’ll never stop creating.
Every song, every step, every breath counts.
“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
- Mitch Albom, tuesdays with Morrie