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Future Asian & Pacific History Month: Hayley Kiyoko's Quest for Connection

"Most of the time," says the "Sleepover" singer, "you become confident after years of struggling during your young adulthood. I want to encourage the youth to find that confidence now"

Fuse is celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History before our eyes. Today we're training our sights on Hayley Kiyoko, singer, songwriter and actress.

Kiyoko, 26, was born in L.A. to American voice actor and comedian Jamie Alcroft and Sarah Kawahara, the Japanese Canadian figure skater who won Emmys for choreographing Scott Hamilton Upside Down and the 2002 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. (She also choreographed Will Ferrell's Blades of Glory.) Hayley started acting in commercials at a young age, and as a teenager joined The Stunners, a five-piece girl group that included Tinashe. Their rocky four-year run ended in 2011 with just one EP and a few singles on the books, but Kiyoko was not deterred from her showbiz aspirations. She had already acted on a few episodes of Wizards of Waverly Place and Unfabulous and played Velma in a pair of Scooby-Doo TV movies; her debut solo EP A Belle to Remember came in 2013.

Fast forward to 2016 and Kiyoko had completed a stint as a regular on the first (and only) two seasons of CSI: Cyber, starred in Jem and the Holograms and shown up on The Fosters and in Insidious: Chapter 3. In September she dropped her first major label release, the marvelous Citrine EP. Earlier this year she headlined a monthlong North American tour to support the release.

Citrine features "Girls Like Girls," which since June 2015 has gotten 68 million YouTube views on a video Kiyoko co-directed. (She has since solo-helmed four of her visuals.) "I loved the idea of how all these guys always are stealing other guys’ girls and I was like, ‘There’s no female anthem for a girl stealing another guy's girl,' and that is the coolest thing ever,” she told Us Weekly.

The single, with its chorus declaring "Girls like girls like boys do / Nothing new," was a breakthrough for Kiyoko both in songwriting and living honestly. In a candid essay for Paper magazine, she recounted a songwriting session where she vented her dissatisfaction with her music's impact:

"Lily [May-Young, of T.Y Songs] looked me in the eye and asked, 'Tell me something nobody knows about you, something you are afraid to sing about?' I immediately thought, well I like girls and that's what I want to sing about, but even then I struggled to say it out loud. Finally, I told Lily that I always say 'you' and 'them' and never the pronoun 'her' in all my songs because I was afraid it wouldn't connect. We talked more about concepts and my experiences, and how I loved the idea of stealing another guy's girl because that was always a fantasy of mine. Growing up, everything I did was always about girls. I took dance because of girls. I got involved in student council because of girls. Not that I ever expected any of them to like me back, but I just felt comforted being around them, even if I could never date them. So there we were. The song 'Girls like Girls' was born.

Kiyoko has remained loud and clear about her messages of self-love, motivation, acceptance and community. In the same Paper piece, she remembered watching openly out celebrities and wondering if she would only feel content when she was older, like them, since she had no role models saying it could be different. "Most of the time, you become confident after years of struggling during your young adulthood. I want to encourage the youth to find that confidence now. Not later. For them to know their own self-worth at an earlier age."

Kiyoko exercises a level of control with her music career that's harder to find as a mixed race person in the acting world. "I’m constantly going out for Asian American roles and ‘I’m not Asian enough.’ They will flat out say that," she told CraveOnline in March. "Then, I’ll go out for open ethnicity roles and they will go ‘you’re not white enough.’ It’s just part of who I am and what I look like."

Like many, Donald Trump's presidency has lit a fire under Kiyoko. The morning after the election she tweeted, "I've never been so disappointed in our country. This is appalling. I have nothing to say to the people who are about to take my rights away." In Paper she wrote, "It breaks my heart that fear is so present in our world right now. School is hard enough and it breaks my heart to see these kids under attack by hate crimes and bullying."

Hayley's confident she's getting her messages of hope, kindness and understanding out into the world nowadays. She told PopCrush she stays after her concerts and meets everyone looking to say hello, giving her the chance to "make them feel like they’re not alone and that there’s someone out there who understands them." Fans have told her about using her "Girls Like Girls" video to come out to their parents, and about learning to love themselves through her lyrics. "The thing with me, with what I’m doing," she said, "is it’s all bigger than me."

Tune in to Fuse and come back to Fuse.tv every day for profiles, videos, galleries and more on the individuals around the world who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History. Join the conversation with FutureHistory and find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.

For more, watch Hayley Kiyoko tell Fuse about dancing in front of her crushes for the "Gravel to Tempo" video:

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