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Lao-American Donenava Nanthavongsa or Gumby, from Jail to Rising Hip-Hop Star


Donenava Nanthavongsa or Gumby, one of the rising Hip Hop artists in the Lao-American community, talked to VOA about the difficult life he went through during his early years in the United States.

Done was just a boy when he arrived in this country with his family. They were resettled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and lived in a public housing where the majority of residents were African-Americans. Done said his life was miserable then because, being one of a few Asian students among the African-American majority, he was picked on, bullied, and made fun by his follow classmates and neighbors. “Every single day, either going to school or coming home, on the bus or playground, I was picked on and beat up. I came home crying to my parents every day.”

Done added that problems got worse when more Asian families moved into the area. Young Asian-Americans started to band together and form a gang to defend themselves. Done said they told each other, “We have to fight back; we don’t care if we win or lose. We got to fight back to protect ourselves and one another.”

“My parents were very poor, they were on welfare and didn’t speak English, didn’t have a job and the kids started to get into trouble and find an easy way out by going along with the crowd. So sooner than I thought, I got involved with gangs and became more and more violence, fighting with knife, and guns, starting to rob people and steal, and doing drugs - all the things that were and still are considered “cool” by inner city kids.” Done was put in a juvenile detention but allowed to attend school. He told VOA that “Even though I was a bad boy, I never gave up school. I managed to finish high school.”

Done became involved in more serious crimes once he passed juvenile age going into adulthood. He was put in jail for three years. This time around he realized that what he did was wrong, so he started to correct his life by learning to sing Hip Hop while he was in jail and tried to prove to his cellmates that even though he is an Asian, he can sing Hip-Hop and do the same as African-Americans do, and he did. And that was how his singing career began.

Done loves to write, so he put his words in music. He wants the world to know and learn from his music how and why he did what he did. Done has so far released three albums. The first one is about his life story, the second about this love, and the last one about being good, doing good deeds, being happy, and getting along.

Don had performed many concerts with famous singers from Laos and Thailand including Alexandra, Birdie, Loso, Tai Orathai, Jennifer and Yayaying. In conclusion, Don says, “The theme for my next album which will be released around New Year 2008 is “New Year and New Don”. It will be about happy times, working hard, making money to support family. Doing a good thing and be happy.”

Listen to our Lao Diaspora for more about Gumby or Donnava Nanthavongsa.

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