Sobil Tuy, known as Kay Kay, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand during the Cambodian genocide. After the camps, his family came to Long Beach, California as refugees when he was two years old. Similar to many Cambodians, Kay Kay’s family was resettled in an impoverished and violent neighborhood.
Facing bullying at school and constant violence in their neighborhood, many Cambodian youths including Kay Kay joined gangs for protection when they were just children. At age 18, he was arrested for snatching a purse and sentenced to two years in prison. Kay Kay was not told that the plea deal also meant he would be deported. When he was released from prison, immigration officers arrested him. Later, he was ordered to be deported due to his conviction.
Kay Kay arrived in Cambodia for the first time in 2004. He did not have any family contacts and little to any resources to transition in Cambodia. This led him to seek solace in breakdancing and expressing himself through hip hop. Many children around his neighborhood became interested in this medium. Kay Kay saw this as a chance for him to be an older brother and mentor for the youth. Reflecting on his own experiences, Kay Kay encouraged and guided the youth to avoid gangs, drugs, and crimes. He met children unable to attend school because they were too poor.. A year later, he started opening his home to teach a handful of children how to dance, which eventually led him to start a nonprofit called Tiny Toones.
Tiny Toones uses the popularity of hip-hop to engage, inspire, and educate the youth. The non-profit provides a safe positive environment for at-risk youth to channel their energy and creativity into the arts and education. The curriculum includes Khmer and English language studies, mathematics, alongside dance, art, and music workshops. The program helped over 15,000 children receive an education and find gainful employment. At the same time, previous Tiny Toones students often return to the program as employees. Moreover, Kay Kay’s influence, guidance, and passion for the community shaped Cambodia’s creative culture while uplifting at-risk youth.
While Kay Kay’s conviction is decades old, he is unable to return to the U.S to visit his family and tour with his youth. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office can join a request to vacate Kay Kay’s conviction and allow him to come home. We are calling on community members to urge the DA’s office to vacate Kay Kay’s conviction. We are also calling on the governor to pardon Kay Kay so he can visit his family and continue his work with Tiny Toones in the U.S.