Hayley Kiyoko Says She 'Didn't Really Have the Space' to 'Embrace' Her Asian Heritage Growing Up

"Most of my adolescence, my sexuality took over my struggle with fitting into society, and then as I was able to learn and accept myself, I started to unpack my culture," she tells PEOPLE

Hayley Kiyoko
Hayley Kiyoko. Photo: Trevor Flores/ atlantic records

Hayley Kiyoko is proud of representing the AAPI community.

Chatting with PEOPLE ahead of Thursday's Hennessy X.O's Mid-Autumn Festival, Kiyoko, 30, opens up about the importance of Asian-American representation and what it's like to see fellow AAPI entertainers — such as Olivia Rodrigo and Saweetie — in the spotlight.

"Growing up biracial — my mom's Japanese Canadian and my dad's Caucasian — it took a long time for me to really connect and embrace my Asian heritage," she tells PEOPLE. "I was never white enough, I was never Asian enough, but I also was never straight enough. For most of my adolescence, my sexuality kind of took over my struggle with fitting into society, and then as I was able to learn and accept myself, later in life, I started to unpack my culture and my roots."

"I just didn't really have the space to do so when I was younger, because I was just extremely gay and I didn't have an outlet or felt like I had a community that I belonged to, and so that really took over most of my youth," she continues. (FYI, Kiyoko is known as "Lesbian Jesus.")

Without that solid connection to her culture as a child, Kiyoko says it wasn't until she got older that she was able to really tap into her Japanese heritage. As part of her partnership with Hennessy X.O, the singer was able to sit down with her mother Sarah Kawahara as part of the brand's digital series titled "Original Odyssey."

"It was really cool to be able to reconnect with my heritage and get to experience that and share that with my mother, which I've never really done. I've been super excited about this opportunity," she says. "It was actually extremely emotional. I'm always emotional about most things that are remotely vulnerable, but it was really incredible. I learned so much from her as well, and I think for her and me, it was a moment that we will remember forever."

"You have your highs and lows, but a lot of the time you don't take time to really get to reconnect with family tradition and the odyssey behind that," she adds.

Kiyoko, who recently released her songs "Found My Friends" and "Chance," says it excites her to see more Asian American artists entering the spotlight, since growing up it was artists like Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and "powerhouse" Sandra Oh who inspired her.

"That's all I've ever wanted," she says of the growing number of Asian superstars. "Especially growing up, all I've ever wanted was to have people I could look up to that look like me, that I could connect to, and so I think it's so incredible to see so many artists getting mainstream support and fix that."

Hayley Kiyoko
Hayley Kiyoko. Trevor flores/ atlantic records

"The possibilities are endless — that there is a space for us. A lot of times when you grow up and you don't see someone that looks like you, it doesn't feel like society wants you or accepts you, so I'm so excited for what the future holds and the change that we're really starting to see in the music industry," she adds.

One of the Asian stars taking the industry by storm is Olivia Rodrigo, who, like Kiyoko, got her start through Disney. Though the two have yet to speak, Kiyoko says she's "a huge fan" of the "Good 4 U" songstress.

"A lot of us are grateful for having any kind of platform to be able to grow our artistry and to be able to share that with the world, and so I think we're all pretty grateful for any opportunity," she says.

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As for what's next for the "Curious" songstress, Kiyoko says she's "really excited for chapter two of Hayley Kiyoko."

"This next chapter is a perfect representation and the definition of who I am today and my growth since 2018," Kiyoko says. "I'm really excited to share it with you all."

Hennessy X.O's Mid-Autumn Festival: A Moonlight Odyssey, which is hosted by Harry Shum, Jr., will feature guests and performances by Eddie Huang, Guapdad 4000, Niki and Bohan Phoenix.

"I feel like Hennessy is consistently always supporting the AAPI community and they're not just talk — they do it with actions, and so I'm really excited to be a part of this Mid-Autumn Festival celebration," Kiyoko said about the event.

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