Season 2 Ep#61 Vocal Alchemy: Decolonizing Music as a Transracial Adoptee with Dr. Kiki Steiner
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Dr. Kiki Steiner, DMA, (she/they/siya[sha]) is a holistic vocal coach, decolonization consultant, and choral conductor. She is currently serving as an adjunct instructor of music at Millikin University in the Choral Conducting and Music Education area. As the founder of Decolonizing Kiki LLC, her work as a holistic vocal coach focuses on empowering others to connect with their voice through releasing shame around one’s voice as well as facilitating self-led healing.
Main Topics Discussed:
- Life as a “transracial adoptee”
- Using your voice to manifest liberation for your community
- Rerooting oneself in a predominantly white culture
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
Kiki: One of the major blessings in my life is that I’m a transracial adoptee and most recently, my biological father just moved here from the island of Oahu in the Kingdom of Hawaii and we are now spending each day together, reunited and reconnecting with one another, celebrating our Filipino ancestors every day.
What is a “transracial adoptee”?
Kiki: I was born and raised in Southwestern Wisconsin, a predominantly white community and adopted by a single mom with ancestry from England and Germany; so, I grew up as a biracial Filipino child in an all-white family. I grew up around people who did not look like me.
How would you describe your medicine?
Kiki: My medicine is activating creativity through connecting with what I call one’s soul’s unique frequency—their voice—to imagine, envision, and dream about what liberation looks like for ourselves and our community in the next generation.
How has your ancestral lineage influenced your path today?
Kiki: Learning about my ancestral heritage was really powerful for me as an adoptee because so much of my personal history was unknown for a very long time before I started to reunite with my biological family. I first connected with my biological mother when I was about 20 years old. I have ancestry in Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland, and England. I learned through that reunion that I wasn’t the first musician to go to college to learn about music education: I have a great-aunt who was a voice teacher at the collegiate level for many years and I have uncles with master’s degrees in music performance. But it took until my reunification with my dad in 2020 to learn about my Filipino culture and history. That led me to truly understand what decolonization means for me and how it applies to my story. I feel colonized on so many levels. Decolonization, to me, means a separation and dissociation from oneself and one’s truth, one’s motherland, and our connection to divinity and the cosmos relative to where we find ourselves in this moment. Through connecting with that heritage, my musical inclinations made more sense: Filipinos are known for singing karaoke and celebrating and singing. I’ve always been Filipino at heart!
How did you find your biological family?
Kiki: Because of the racial uprisings throughout the past few years, I was really trying to find out where my place was as an ally and advocate who wanted to be part of that liberation. When I didn’t have those answers of what my heritage was, I didn’t know where my place was in the movement. So, I went to AncestryDNA and found out that I am 50% Filipino. Eventually, I came across two or three individuals who were potentially close family. Actually, an auntie reached out to me on AncestryDNA when she saw that we could be related, and she discovered that her brother is my dad. Right before COVID, myself, my auntie, cousins, and dad—who flew in from Hawaii—were all able to reunite in Portland.
Why did you choose decolonization instead of full-on assimilation into white culture? And why did you focus on decolonizing music?
Kiki: When I was about two years old, I was adopted by a single mother who was also a pastor. So I grew up going to church every Sunday. I sang my first solo in church, too. And I remember looking out into a sea of white faces—people who didn’t look like me. Singing and choir singing was my safe place growing up. In college, I learned about the nonprofit “Decolonizing the Music Room”, which was the first time I heard about the concept. That was two months before I met my dad. I then learned about Spanish colonization in the Philippines, and all of it really came together for me. I knew I had to question every little part of me to deconstruct those beliefs that were colonized within me and truly understand who I am.
What were the first emotions that surfaced from your reunion with your father?
Kiki: So much shame. All of my teachers were white men. All of my mentors have been white men. I’ve looked for approval and validation from them because I didn’t get it from a father. I felt like a failure as his daughter, so I had to have compassion for myself and not be that straight-A perfectionist who wishes she had the perfect upbringing. That reunion wasn’t what I wanted it to be; but, at the same time it was everything I needed it to be.
How are you rerooting yourself in a predominantly white community and why did you choose this place instead of Hawaii?
Kiki: Hawaii is stolen land and it is very, very expensive to live there. My husband is also interested in creating a Filipino-Hawaiian food truck to serve this area and share the meaning of ohana and kapwa with this colonized community that has not been able to experience what it means to really decolonize and connect with one’s culture.
How have you seen yourself reflected in your father now that you have embodied decolonization?
Kiki: My work is all around the voice. One of the main things I see in my dad is his really playful, boisterous energy. Wherever he goes, he talks with everyone. He is able to create community with his voice. For so much of my life, I was shrinking myself and not saying a word to not bring attention to myself. My relationship with my dad has allowed me to reclaim my voice. Colonization is taking one’s voice away so that there we don’t have the ability to speak up for ourselves and for others.
If you could envision yourself as a future ancestor, what would they say to you today?
Kiki: You have always been an embodiment of love. You have always been light. Your inner truth and what guides you in your heart will always lead you on the path that is meant for you.
Conclusion: Decolonization is ultimately about relationships, starting with your relationship with yourself, and then your relationship with your community, nature, and the land around you.
Action Integration: Everything else is a reflection of your relationship with yourself. By starting to cultivate compassion for the very different parts you have within you—the scared eight-year-old, the inner critic, the colonizer—and hear their voices clearly, you will be able to discern which of those voices is truly your own and which are others’. This will put us on the path of walking in alignment with our own energy instead of constantly reacting to triggers and falling victim to our coping mechanisms.
Learn more about Kiki:
Visit her website: www.decolonizingkikillc.com
Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/decolonizing_kiki
Download my free guided meditation on how to connect with your ancestors bit.ly/ancestorinthemaking
Apply to the summer cohort of Roots to Rise (final one of the year!) : www.yourstorymedicine.com/roots2rise